"Is our relation with the Other a letting be? Is not the independence of the other achieved through his or her role as one who is addressed? Is the person to whom we speak understood beforehand in his being? Not at all. The Other is not first an object of understanding and then an interlocutor. The two relations are merged. In other words, addressing the other is inseparable from understanding the Other. To understand a person is already to speak to him."
(Emmanuel Levinas, in Entre nous: Essays on Thinking-of-the-Other, 1998, p.6)
Storytelling is an essential part of our daily lives. It drives and shapes our understanding of ourselves and of the lives and experiences of others. It can bridge the space between people and become constitutive of community. It is a mode of enquiry, creation and representation of knowledge. Its practices help define dreams and ideals, record cultural and historical accounts, and justify political action.
The telling of stories of others, both in fiction and documentary, has deep ethical implications. They are representations of experiences and knowledge, and the meanings we bring to them can both marginalise or empower.
A reflection on ethics within storytelling practices can be focused upon the context of the relationship between an author and their audience. Various media, such as a journalistic piece, an ethnographic or social studies research, or simply photographs of people from diverse communities, become artefacts to be seen, read or heard, and understood. A documentary image's status as evidence reflects the desire for a recorded reality which is available to be reviewed and its meaning to be known. Authenticity, the right and power to look, the role of institutions, are all traditional points of view from which to consider ethical issues.
In this seminar, we will shift the focus and place it on the practitioner's encounter with the other in the field. This event is a relationship between people and reflects the balances of power, cooperation or conflict, agency and intention, that are embodied by its participants. We will think about the stories that are told as well as those that are not. We will explore an understanding of ethics through the shared experience of the other, and consider the importance of the place and the sensory conditions of this becoming.
The seminar will be an interactive and participatory experience. We will discuss and experiment with contemporary collaborative and sensory approaches, and dialogical methodologies towards the production of knowledge and representations, about and of others. The conversation will be further extended to the participants' own experiences of ethics and related concepts within their practices and local contexts.
Manuel Francisco Sousa is a practitioner and researcher in the areas of documentary and portraiture.
He has a Master's degree in Design and Visual Culture from Escola Superior de Design, IADE Lisbon, and a second Master's degree in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.
Currently he is a PhD research student at the University of the Arts London.
"In my documentary practice, I seek to foreground the question of who is empowered within the visible, how one is represented and the stake one has in voicing their representation, and the nature of testimony – in particular, through mutually shared and collaborative narratives.
My research interests are focused on the ethics of the encounter with the other in documentary. More specifically, on current trends and intersections with collaborative practices within contemporary documentary portraiture photography."