I will be giving a brief presentation at the Visible Evidence documentary conference in Bozeman Montana on one of two workshops concerning the teaching of documentary.

Preparing for this, I realize: I don’t teach “Intro to Documentary” (Studies and/or Production), and never have in my twenty-five years of praxis-based collegiate instruction committed to making, historicizing and theorizing activist media practices with my students and related communities. Thus, I decided to use my invitation to contribute to the panel, and its field-centered conversation, to figure out where, in fact, I had and have located my teaching about feminist, queer, activist, AIDS and internet media. My title for the panel, written well in advance, had been “The Axis of Praxis.” This placed- and action-based metaphor still provides a reasonable framework in that the space I have been doing my work in, about, and for is indeed, not really documentary but rather, this place: a media place, a lived place, a practice place at the (always anticipated and endlessly unfulfilled) axis of community, commitment, making,  seeing and representation.

That is, the internet, and its wild collections, its multiple possibilities for media (what Helen De Michiel named as “a cutting loose from legacy 20th century production and distribution practices”), its linking and unlinking of networks of self and community, and its breezy possibilities for making and sharing. The internet: with its corporate ownership, neo-liberal paradigms of labor, self-production, promotion, and commodification. The internet: a place we don’t need to go to see.

In my presentation (my power point is here), I will discuss how my work has been situated not in documentary, per se, but rather: between film and media studies by way of documentary, and more particularly activist, community-based media; in DH by way of queer and feminist and anti-racist studies; and in critical internet studies by way of placed-based interrogations of the embodied experiences of communities of practitioners. This inter-disciplinarity helps me to better see this place. At Visible Evidence, thinking about documentary with theorists and practitioners in Montana (for now), I learned, face-to-face about the values of lived embodied space.

13920563_10154809601099316_8166273746383273395_oJanet Walker‘s opening keynote, “Mapping Documentary,” set the stage for my experience of a series of provocations about documentary, place, and digital technologies, including the internet, that she and her graduate students and fellow faculty members at UCSB have been developing and refining for many years (I have joined them here and elsewhere) and which I then heard across the conference from many others (just a few listed below). She understands documentary “as mapping in and of itself,” by way of geo-locative tools that combine with more traditional media and their linked practices (i.e. documentary) and material, daily, lived experience and knowledge of place. Her reading of how and why these representations move on and off media, including the internet, what she calls “a deep mapping,” is a practice at the axis of praxis.

I’ve also been attempting to do and theorize this kind of engaged, active, seeing, going and reading with my students and others, albeit often by first (creatively/politically) building or entering a digital place, that is always also a material place, that is to say that is one place—the world and its internet; this place—with all the particularities of the local and the global, the material and the digital making it impossible to pin down.

Helen De Michiel‘s presentation on a panel about contemporary participatory media practices, looked to her current documentary practice (on Lunch Love Community) that is “enmeshed in social lived encounters … folded into public settings” and that Patty Zimmerman went on to name as “small-scale media interventions that permeate in and through communities,” at once “digital, analogue, and embodied.” In this panel, Aggie Bazaz noted a set of documentary-linked practices where “films receded into the background of events,” that Reece Auguiste called “a way of being in the world,” that is collectively “for oneself and for others.” What matters most to me here is their descriptions of carefully navigated movements from lived embodied reality to digital/media representation as the most critical part of activist multimedia practices. This is done with care, attention, love, and self-awareness.

These placed based ideas of my colleagues, learned and shared as they were in a place, Montana, have led me to believe that I have not, indeed, been studying, teaching or making documentaries for these past many years as I have been trying rather, to use documentary, and a related series of linked tools, processes and methods, histories and theories, to build with others (often my students) a way of being, doing, and changing in the digital material world that is currently our home. From this, I realize that documentary, like the internet, is simply a set of technologies at hand; certainly one with rules, histories, best practices, theories, communities, and infinite possibilities (limited by many forces). But for me, it has always been the doing towards the living and being and changing that has mattered the most, and I thus am drawn to makers and theorists (in whatever fields) that try to understand this, as much as I am to the texts that inspire it.

Here are links to five such projects of my own, using documentary as practices and theories and histories, to be sure, but along with other tools and ways of being and knowing, that have pushed me to reconsider my place at the axis of praxis of documentary and other fields:

  • Learning from YouTube: my class and video-book on and about this site
  • Visual Research Methods: my class teaching grad students in the humanities about the legacies and affordances of critical digital making as a humanist and artistic mode of inquiry and writing
  • FemTechNet: a place for asynchronous, collective, distributed teaching about feminist views of technologies
  • Feminist Online Spaces: a project aimed at researching, teaching, talking about and otherwise building-towards online spaces that are defined by feminist and other progressive principles of community, visibility, discourse, and politics
  • Ev-ent-anglement an experiment in digital embodied collective feminist media praxis




I will (Re)Perform a Theory of Feminist Digital Praxis: Cutting Through the Noise of the Digital Self, on December 11, at 3pm (UTC+05:30) at Visible Evidence, Dehli.


By Alanna Thain from ev-ent-anglement 1, Utrecht.

You are invited to cut/paste+bleed with us, live, or for a week after at http://ev-ent-anglement.com.

Here is your script: #Ev-ent-anglement 2, Visible Evidence, Delhi, December 2014

Go to http://ev-ent-anglement.com and watch the ev-ent-anglement unfold.

As I talk, or sometime within a week after, please #cut/paste+bleed into the #ev-ent-anglement from the archive of yourself.

Please try to #cut/paste+bleed at minimum twice.

Please try to paste+bleed to something already cut before you

Everything you paste needs this hashtag to be seen: #eventanglement

On Twitter: #eventanglement

On Instagram: #eventanglement

Find or make images, links, words, video or gifs that express your responses, connections, ideas, and questions.

You can write at any length in the comment box provided.

You might be distracted. But the “talk” and site isn’t going anywhere, in fact, you can find the talk itself (and its Power Point and this script) at http://ev-ent-anglement.com (if you want to back track, go forward, or re-mix).

Our Q and A, and later interactions, will allow us to un-entangle what resides at the #ev-ent-anglement.

I can’t wait to see what you’ve done!

You can view the Delhi power-point and read the talk on ev-ent-anglement.com as well.



In the past few days, I’ve seen two powerful film screenings featuring works that historicize AIDS in the 1980s: We Were Here (“the first documentary to take a deep and reflective look back at the arrival and impact of AIDS in San Francisco”) and United in Anger: A History of ACTUP.

Now, most people weren’t AIDS activists, and fewer still are professional AIDS remembers (a role several of us seem to have been gifted in the last few years), but I am both, and in the second role, have been asked to write or speak about the remembering of AIDS in three upcoming venues: a publication on the 25 year anniversary of ACTUP with the Quarterly Journal of Speech, a talk about recent AIDS video at Visible Evidence documentary conference in August, and a lecture in October at Concordia University for their nineteen-year long community lecture series and course on AIDS, Concordia HIV/AIDS Project. Most people don’t remember AIDS: in particular how we fought, how we cared and loved, how we raged, what we won, who we lost. This non-remembering of AIDS is a kind of recollection crisis in its own right, particularly affecting younger queers (of color) who don’t somehow know that there was unimaginable death, anger, activism, community-building, and art made because of AIDS, practices that continue to be highly relevant (if absent) to AIDS, queer youth, and the dearth of activism more generally.

I find that these two video projects (and Jean Carlomusto’s Sex in an Epidemic, and my own Video Remains, and others) each approach this recent remembering project with different forms, themselves reflective of the aims of their remembering goals. In short, We Were Here emotes and United in Anger rages–these feelings evident already in their titles–but also in their documentary approaches. WWH personalizes the crisis, focusing closely on six people with a soft and warm camera, evocative music, stories of personal loss and commitment, and a camera that lingers on tears (producing the same in its audience). Meanwhile, UIA moblizes a cold, sharp video look at a large group of speakers, and an even more clinical body of activist documentation of demonstrations and meetings, allowing us to feel that these images stand in for a mass of similar voices and a compendium of events and actions, and inviting us to enter through their anger and action (just another player in a movement of individuals that can lead to change). Both approaches feed us, although in different ways. Remembering AIDS–which was itself a complex amalgam of emotion, action, living, dying, loving, politics, and representation–demands as many complimentary approaches as we can afford and can bear. While we are all not professional AIDS remembers, nor need we be, we can all learn from this history, particularly in relation to its sustaining models of personal and political action in the name of human rights, health care, and the power of people to help themselves and thereby better their community and world.

I have been tourıng Istanbul, wındıng down on wındıng roads from the jam-packed Vısıble Evıdence conference (on documentary). I can’t do justıce to the many strong panels I saw: testıment to the solıdıfıcatıon of documentary as a fully fledged fıeld (I helped start the conference as a graduate student and I remember we dıd so because the few people always talkıng on documentary at larger fılm conferences thought we mıght be able to buıld a more serious and sustained dialogue if we could learn from each other).

Instead, I’ll focus on two great YouTube papers, and one meaty conversation held in the halls. I Learned much from Jason Mıddleton‘s thoughts on the reactıon vıdeo

He links this tawdry “new” YouTube staple to the classıc dupe function of comedy, the quıckly re-stablızed gotcha of Candid Camera, and the body genres of pornography, horror, and melodrama (as coıned by Linda Williams).

While 2Girls1Cup, as well as the Scary Maze Game cycle work just as he says, my students’ work on Twılıght reactıon videos leads me to believe that while ridicule always holds the heart of the ımpulse, ıdentıfıcatıon can at times also be alarmıngly present.

Meanwhıle, UC Berkeleys grad student, Jen Malkowski’s, paper on Neda made a sımılar move, linking “new” forms of viral vıdeo to older norms and conventıons of narrative cinema. She argued that Neda went vıral because its images echoed the standards of narrative renderıngs of death (multiple camera angles, close ups, beautıful female lead) allowıng for familiarity and dıstance to create acceptability, popularıty, drama, and iconicity. At both panels I suggested that our dısbelıef of all things YouTube also contributes to cement the narrativization of realıty ımages that was at the heart of both modes of popular realıty images.

Fınally, Vısıble Evıdence has always made a place for documentarians (and theorist/pratıoners), allowıng for the rare and gıvıng possıbılıty for ıntellectual conversations about productıon. I partıcularly enjoyed discussion about documentary ethıcs ın lıght of medıa’s new mobılıty, that were engendered by a serıes of panels led by Sam Gregory from Wıtness and were artfully exemplıfıed by Pratap Rughanı.