Reflections on the Film
‘Some aspects of culture are intended to make a visual impression, and can hardly be effectively understood or described without the use of visual methods.’
(Waterson 2011: 74)
In February of this year the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee published a report - Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability. It was collated over a two-year period and outlines economic, ecologic and social issues with current fashion industry canons.
The fashion industry’s current business model is unsustainable, especially with growing populations and rising levels of consumption across the globe. Over-consumption and climate change are driving widespread environmental damage.(EAC Report 2019 - emphasis in original)
With the discussion around our unsustainable fashion industry becoming more central to the wider discussion of climate change, this is a burgeoning topic. The UK’s fashion industry is one of the worst, in terms of unsustainability and social accountability, as well as one of the leaders, with a number of innovative designers and companies paving the way for sustainable, ethical practices (EAC, 2019).
I have used my film as a platform to hopefully open up a discourse and raise awareness around these issues and to introduce a wider audience to some of what extinction rebellion does, as an environmental activist group. Part of the aim of the project is to increase awareness of the situation current fashion industry practices have led us to, and then through the website I hope to lead on from the problems the film highlights, to offer possible solutions towards reducing these negative impacts.
Starting this visual anthropology project I felt inherently uncomfortable with the idea of being an authoritative voice, or even ‘narrator’, providing an audience with my own edited version of somebody or something; my anthropological truth, if you will. As, even in the case of observational film - take MacDougall’s work for instance - yes it is observational, but choices have been made; firstly what is important enough to record and secondly what is important enough to make the edit, what fits the narrative. Do we choose something that looks beautiful; a shot that is wonderfully emotive; the capturing of a truly mundane moment; or a blur that conveys the movement and excitement in an active setting?
The answer is in knowing what it is you want to convey to your audience. From the outset I had an idea in mind to make Sara the protagonist of the film and concentrate on pushing her message and exploring her life and work in the sustainable fashion world. This however posed the question of how to go about this. How do I give my audience an honest insight into who Sara is?
[W]hilst the attempt to ensure that the things are what they seem will be present itself to the location crew as an ethical problem, the implications will be present to the viewer only in so far as they manifest themselves in terms of the aesthetic. In the sense that the crisis is located in the transition from the film-makers’ terms of reference to the viewer’s it is a crisis of editing, for it is at this interface that the editor works. (Vaughan 1992: 105-106)
If I were to present a film concentrating on the particulars of a persons life I would need to tackle the issue of it being a genuine portrayal, that it was as real as it could be, which may be difficult given time limitations. I would possibly not have enough time to really get to know Sara, as somebody previously unknown to me I did not have that insight myself yet.
I needn’t have worried. After meeting Sara it quickly became apparent that Sara’s aim was to promote an understanding of what the fashion industry was doing to the world, to be a voice of activism, not to promote her own business. In fact it would seem that she has a moral dilemma in even having her own business, even though it is all about sustainability, as she is very passionate about extinction rebellion and raising awareness about climate change. It dawned on me that it wouldn’t be a true portrayal of Sara to make a film about her, but would be truer to work with Sara to push her message as that is what her life revolves around; using her place in the industry to promote positive change.
I was going to foray into anthropological activism and public anthropology. This sat better with my own feelings towards needing some kind of social impact with what I do, and working with a subject I already have a lot of knowledge about - fashion.
A less conventional way of getting anthropological research findings and interpretations to broader publics is through active and on-site collaboration with journalists and the media. ... Most anthropologists fear ‘contamination’ by journalism: few scholars are comfortable with articles that may read more like ‘investigative journalism’ than ethnography. (Scheper-Hughes 2009: 1)
Inspired by the work of Nancy Scheper-Hughes I would work with the press team. I had to be careful not to make a journalistic film. I was looking to push a message, but also concentrate on the people taking part in the swarm. I had to get across the feeling of being present at such an event.
I had a lot of footage from the rebellion swarm. I took a tripod with me, but realised upon editing that the footage shot on a tripod didn’t give the audience any aspect of what the day was really like. It was an exciting day of motion. We were always moving. The static shots weren’t true to the atmosphere. I ended up using a lot of walking shots, with the camera moving shakily, taking in the surroundings, as I did. I used it as an extension of myself, both observational and participatory. I took inspiration from Lucien Castaing-Taylor and sensory ethnography here. I needed the audience to feel like they were part of the experience; like they were there at the swarm.
I used audio from a talk I attended by Sara Arnold for an informative section outlining some of the problems with the fashion industry in respect to climate change – I wasn’t allowed to film during the talk, which was a good thing in the outcome, as it gave me a chance to work with the audio more closely, which was very difficult as there was a lot of interference and background noise. I’m not totally happy with the quality of that section of audio still, but it was an interesting learning experience. The audio forced me think about what I wanted to convey visually alongside it. I originally used outside footage throughout the section which corresponded to what Sara was discussing – but realised this was not visually interesting, and instead used different aspects of the event to support the audio.
I still used a small amount of outside footage, which was not an easy decision to make, but I definitely felt that an amount of context was necessary in some places. I ended up using some footage of fashion vloggers showing their hauls from shopping sprees. This highlights the issue of our ‘consumer society’ (Miller), and the fact that shopping and consumption is inherently part of our culture, and is not a superficial act to be looked down upon, but is actually part of how we relate to one another. Consumer culture is actually now just culture, something most have not accepted, but Miller discusses at length in Consumption and its Consequences (2012). In order to change the way we consume fashion, we really have to look at changing our cultural canons. We need to rethink this aspect of our society. I have used the film to highlight this, and hope that tying in the website to become a step forward from this I may have an impact on the way we think about fashion.
Environmental Audit Committee (2019). Sustainability of the fashion industry inquiry – Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability[Online]. HC 1952. London: House of Commons. Available from: [Accessed 19 February 2019].
Miller, D. (2012).Consumption and its consequesnces. Cambridge: Polity.
Scheper‐Hughes, N. (2009), Making anthropology public. Anthropology Today, 25: 1-3. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8322.2009.00674.x
Tarlo, E. (1996). Clothing Matters. London: C. Hurst and Co.
Vaughan, D (1992). The aesthetics of ambiguity. In Film as Ethnography. 99-115 (Eds. Crawford, P. I. and Turnton, D.) Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Waterson, R. (2011) Visual Anthropology and the Built Environment. In Made to be seen. 74-107 (Eds. Banks, M. and Ruby, J.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.