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  • Writer's pictureSarica Robyn

How GoPro cameras mark a new era in photography and filmmaking

GoPro cameras are digital camera technologies that are embedded within the category wearable technology, as they are often attached to the body, such as an action cam on goggles. They are typically used for action sports.

GoPro cameras herald a new advent in photographic practice by offering fresh perspectives for viewing photographs and videos. Unlike traditional cameras of film and photography where there exists a distance between the photographer and the camera or between the photographed object and the camera, GoPro cameras offer a feeling of embodied presence. GoPro cameras are popular, then, for showcasing a first-person, immersive perspective in such a way that the viewer herself feels she is experiencing the very same reality.

The use of first-person perspective footage raises significant questions on anthropological representation and ethnographic filmmaking. Production of anthropological documentaries come into consideration as the GoPro cameras could entail new ways of filming. The practice of an ethnographer in performing first-person, reflexive ethnography based on participant-observation to ‘grasp the native’s point of view’ (Malinowski, 1922), is premised on the belief that anthropological research can provide insight into why certain aspects of a society are meaningful for its members.

Indeed, the creation of first-person observations of ceremonies and rituals could entail new anthropological data from the perspective of the filmed individuals themselves. The idea of using GoPro cameras for ethnographic films hence introduces questions on representation and the role of the ethnographer. The production of first-person ethnographic films using wearable technology could potentially mark a new era in the relationship between anthropology and film. In particular, the use of wearable technology could elevate the agency of filmed individuals. The importance of the ethnographer would correspondingly recede.

While projects like the ‘Navajo Film Themselves’ have been unsuccessful in showcasing indigenous self-representation, I believe GoPro technology may herald a more successful outcome in ethnographic filmmaking due to the medium of wearable technology itself. Wearable technology through its positioning on the corporeal body is akin to a visible extension of the self. Accordingly, it could have better receptivity among indigenous filmmakers as an extension without interference from an external ethnographer.

Acknowledging that an ethnographer herself would edit the footage and still authenticate the indigenous experience, footage from GoPro cameras goes decidedly further than other photographic technologies. By offering first-person perspectives, it is less vulnerable to interference from external editing. The cameras pave the way for an ethnographic film to give tangible form to anthropological knowledge rather than to merely produce it.

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