Jean Rouch introduced the concept of «participative camera» in participative observation. He had a huge influence in what we call image ethnology. For Rouch, we should deepen the internal aspects more than the external, a fact which, according to Mc Dougall, may lead to "the illusory impression of understanding". Jean Rouch, however, goes further in his unorthodox methods:

"For me the only way to film is to walk with the camera, taking it where it can be most effective (...) Thus, the camera becomes as alive as the people it is filming''. Regarding feedback (or image return), which he calls "contre don audio-visuel", Rouch says in a paper written twenty years ago: "The future will be the time of color video footage, of magnetoscopic editing, of instant recovery of the recorded image, i.e., the dream of Vertov and Flaherty, a «cine-mechanic-ear». The camera will be so participative that it will end in the hands of those who were until now behind the cameras."

This is a proposition similar to Mc Dougall’s : «A new step will be taken when participation occurs at the level of film conception itself."

Rouch, as France, advocates the need for the researcher to become a filmmaker himself, i.e., the researcher must be co-responsible for the film: "Personally I am strongly against hiring a movie crew, except in cases outside my control. And in my opinion, only an ethnographer is in a position to know when and how to film, or in other words, how to direct."

Claudine de France speaks of a certain « semi-unconscious » characteristic of research, when images are used:
"To film without being totally aware of the methodological principles and presentation procedures adopted by us, is not, as we see it, uncompatible with a methodological reflection during the periods when we are not filming. It is an alternation, often fertile, between research stages ruled either by action or by thought." (France, 1982).


Nadine Wanono, always loyal to Jean Rouch’s tradition, carefully describes the filming of peanut and sesame seed oil production by the women of Dogon, in Africa. Her rendition of the Dogon women’s ritual selects the body as the main thread of the movie.

France reports that one of the first things that the images show is unceasing body activity. She emphasizes three axes of technical behaviors: bodily, material and ritual.

"The image cannot apprehend the body without referring to its material support or to the equally material purpose of its activities (...) The body and the material operations shown by the images point to aspects that are hidden from society and placed outside the delimited field, and which conveert all gestures into rites. (...) The filmed images always outline a moment in the relationship between body, matter and rite, lying at the core of the cooperative chain".

She shows that a certain number of procedures such as framing, angles of vision and camera movements emphasize one of these aspects according to the researcher’s methodological orientation. In relation to the body language, the use of video becomes central and "much more than a mere illustration to the oral questionnaire and written text: the inversion of the relationship between observation and language should open new perspectives to the written description of technical behaviors, which usually results in an excess of text" The use of images is a new methodological path for understanding cultural and social life.

In her research about the Dogon women, Wanono points out that the women’s postures "are ruled by custom and rite, conveying a large part of the history of Dogon tradition", and leading to the conclusion that "the body is the image of time passing"

"Man's first and most natural technical object is the body "

Marcel Mauss


1) "ROUCH, J. La Camera et les Hommes, in C. FRANCE, C. (dir.). Pour une anthropologie visuelle. Paris, Maison des Sciences de L'Homme, 1979."
2) "WANONO, N. Ciné-rituel des femmes Dogon. Paris, CNRS, 1987."
3) "FRANCE, C. Corps, matière et rite dans le filme ethnographique, in Pour une anthropologie visuelle. Paris, Maison des Sciences de L'Homme, 1979."