Photo Essays

Media Ethnography and the Transcultural City (Paris)

Essay and Photos by Diego Costa

This is a "Dolls" series I captured while in Paris taking the "Media Ethnography" class. A big part of the course was developing the ability to see the exterior world through various perspectives while realizing objectivity is impossible.

We were exposed to both the theory and praxis of several artists/scholars from all over Europe who worked on some kind of ethnographic research. I decided to focus on domestic ethnography in an attempt to examine the relationship between gay son (me) and the feminine figures of the outside world (mothers, sisters, dolls), some of which he has access to, while others are in the realm of the completely prohibited. Through academic writing, research and film proposals and photography (all shared with the class and faculty) I married the abstract musings of theory along with the tangibility of actual work with dolls and fictionalized media diary.

Between classes I volunteered for Unicef in Paris going to little kids' schools (from the richest to the poorest) to teach them how to make rag dolls. It was called "Projet Frimousse", and after the dolls were made we would sell them back to them for 20 Euros -- kind of a perverse twist considering some of the kids couldn't afford to buy their own creations. The money supposedly went to pay for the full cycle of vaccination of children in Africa.

Here I was able to observe how children negotiate and choose color, race, gender, class through this inanimate object. "A doll is something monstruous, something sacred, something dead", says Michel Nedjar. There is no point in speaking of each of the photographs individually, they are portraits of children and the inanimate bodies they appropriate as theirs. One can easily speak of the ideal made visible through the doll, which becomes a site for fantasies of identity -- an opportunity to inhabit another body. A chance to be spared from the unavoidability of life inside one single, always-marked corporeal boundary.

The Asian girl is now blond, the African child is fair-skinned, the blond boy is stereotypically African, the girl with glasses gets to lose them and to let out the shimmering hair she doesn't have. A game of performances and 'passing' that allow for escape, inadvertently, very serious symptoms and consequences.