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VANEASA workshop: Crafting the Future of the Visual Essay (13/09/2019)

Location: University of Antwerp - Date: 13 September 2019

The Scenario

In the early 1990s WJT Mitchell wrote that “new images”, i.e. the images that were emerging in relation to the growing developments of digital technologies, were made to “yield new forms of understanding […] to disturb and disorientate by blurring comfortable boundaries and encouraging transgression of rules on which we have come to rely”  (Mitchell 1992 : p. 223).

A few decades down the line, Mitchell’s vision seems now to have materialised. In the contemporary digitised habitats of the world, images have in fact acquired a new meaning. Rather than ‘illustrating,’ ‘reflecting,’ or ‘capturing’ the world out there they seem to be increasingly engaged in an act of ‘shaping’ and ‘crafting’ it. From Facebook to Instagram, from 3D printing to virtual- mixed- and augmented reality images today do seem to concur at the very creation of new relations, of social and material engagements.

In response to these shifts researchers and lay people alike have become more aware and critical about the world of images. Acknowledging their dynamic, multimodal and multi-sensory character we have today overcome simplistic notions of the image as a “transparent window on the world” (Mitchell 1984, p. 504) and are slowly living up to Howard Becker’ s (1986) invitation to stop looking for an ultimate truth in images.

Yet, what are the consequences of this shift for the multiple ways in which we, as visual anthropologists, can use images as tools for communicating research results?

The Workshop

The present one-day workshop aims to offer a space of reflection upon the possible ways in which visual anthropologists (and visual scholars at large) can today exploit the possibilities offered by new (mainly digital) technologies for moving beyond established linear, flat, text-driven forms of visual narration.

Focusing on the visual essay as a form that has been central to the communication of social scientific research we ask:

  • To what extent are new technologies (wearable cameras, geo-locative and immersive media, online platforms and smartphone applications, etc.) making us re-conceptualise the act and idea of publishing in contemporary visual anthropology?
  • What new relations between images, image-makers and viewers/users/sensers can we imagine today?
  • To what extent can such changes be incorporated in our ongoing efforts for strengthening the value and centrality of visual work in academic curricula?

The Participants

We seek for creative contributions from early career scholars that can help us identify new ways of thinking about and making visual essays. Such essays can be developed in the shape of videoclips, online archives, smartphone applications, virtual, mixed and augmented reality, etc. The essay needs to be able to show the extent to which the selected form interacts with the ethnographic content that makes up the core of the essay. The selected contributions will receive feedback from senior scholars in the area. During the workshop these essays will be the centre of attention.

The best proposals will be published in a special issue of AnthroVision, the visual anthropology journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) that will be edited by Paolo SH Favero (ViDi/UAntwerp) and Janine Prins (University of Leiden).

We aim to offer a small travel support to the selected participants.

How to apply

  • 15th of June: Deadline for sending in a proposal. This proposal should contain a first draft of the visual essay and a one-page reflection upon the dialogue between form and content. Send these two documents to: and
  • 30th of June: Decision of which proposals will be accepted will be communicated.
  • 15th of August: The authors of the selected proposals should send in a second more elaborate draft of the visual essay including a substantial reflection upon the dialogue between form and content.

The workshop is organized in collaboration with Visual and Digital Cultures Research Center (ViDi) and the Dept. of Communication Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Antwerp


  • Paolo Silvio Harald Favéro
  • Associate Professor in Film Studies and Visual Culture
  • University of Antwerp