Why Visual Anthropology?

When I was a child, I was fascinated by science. I don’t recall what got me hooked, but my parents certainly encouraged my interest by providing me with books, informative videos, and subscriptions to children’s science magazines. Up until I was 16, I wanted to study in the realm of natural science, in particular the fields of evolutionary biology and paleontology.

However, my passion for science competed with my love for the narrative visual arts. Raised by two writers, one of whom was a fan of classic sitcoms and Broadway musicals, the other a fan of documentary films and the narrative-driven folk rock prevalent in the 70s, I was primed to be seriously interested in the narrative aspects of auditory and visual media. Thus my dreams of a science career conflicted with my love of movies and plays. Perhaps I could combine them, I reasoned. Following a blatantly adolescent interest in “making it big” after I graduated, I focused on star-making possibilities. Having watched many science documentaries, I decided to combine science and filmmaking in that way. I had been inspired by a scene in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty in which a young filmmaker describes how he uses film to demonstrate the beauty of the world. What a perfect application of filmmaking to science, I thought!

Unfortunately, my family was not wealthy enough to send me to the private universities where I applied, despite the generous scholarships I was offered. I settled on the one in-state public university on my list, which did not have a Filmmaking program. Having devoted most of my spare time in high school to drama club, I declared a Theatre Arts major in college, reasoning that I would develop important crossover skills and a foundational knowledge of narrative visual media.

I did indeed, but ultimately, the program was not a good match for me; I felt under-stimulated and under-challenged. However, my Anthro 101 class had completely reinvigorated my left brain. Moreover, I saw important theoretical parallels to the social and philosophical underpinnings of the theatre arts; I was interested in how theatre as a cultural practice and social event might be analyzed anthropologically. I switched to the Anthropology department, but continued my theatre courses as I completed my Anthropology degree. By that time I had accrued credits in comparative religion, philosophy, mythology, theatre history, and playwriting in addition to my coursework in cultural anthropology. I had learned the name of the fusion of my chosen disciplines: visual anthropology. Moreover, I had learned that it could be applied. My interest in the natural sciences had waned, although I reasoned that I could use it if I ever wanted to make an intelligent science fiction film.

After a long undergraduate career marked by a tumultuous personal life, declining funds for public education, and an exhausting job in retail, I was accepted to the University of Florida, where I feel that my truly (and somewhat messily) interdisciplinary plan of action can and will happen. I have devised a plan for the applied part of my science, and have learned that all of my academic interests are important to what I do, because anthropology for me has evolved from a mere major to a major lifestyle.

Now, I run my own arts production company, DreamQuilt, which heavily uses the concepts and methods of anthropology in its approach to sustainable, socially conscious, and culturally competent theatre productions, arts workshops, and films. I also am working on a series of documentary films under my label CerridwenWorks.

One thought on “Why Visual Anthropology?

  1. Jihan Joseph says:

    Hi Ms. Wayne,

    I hope you are safe and well during this time.

    I just read your article on Medium “Life as an Ugly Girl.” I want to thank you for writing it. That has been an issue I have been dealing with for a long time in my life. I also wanted to reach out to you because I am looking into getting my second MA and then PhD in Visual Anthropology.

    I know you are probably very busy but I just wanted to ask if there are any books I should read before heading on this journey.

    Thank you for your time and I hope you stay safe and well.

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