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Ways of Seeing animals: Documenting and Imag(in)ing the Other in the Digital Turn

Abstract : This article looks at contemporary visual material aimed at documenting animal life. Focusing essentially on two television series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, Planet Dinosaur (2011) and Spy in the Wild (2017), I explore the stories that such recent visual productions tell about our capacity to apprehend and represent otherness. A connection immediately appears between the documentary ambition that underpins the series and the latest forms of technological innovation. From the use of high and ultra-high definition, to the production of animatronic creatures sent out to “spy” on animals in their habitat, the series highlight the new modalities of seeing produced by the digital era, and the opportunities that such modalities open up for the exploration of natural history. By staging the encounter between two figures of the Other – the animal qua “natural” creature on the one hand, and the machine as a product of culture on the other hand – those productions uniquely question the ways in which we apprehend and produce images of alterity. In doing so, they immediately remind us that in imaging and imagining otherness we always run the risk of obfuscating or overlooking it. This is especially the case when the documentary manifests its own anthropocentrism – whether it tends to assimilate the Other and bypass its singularity, or chooses to focus on the modalities of human knowledge more than on the animals themselves. In contradiction to this appropriative logic, however, the series do seem to allow for the emergence of visual forms of otherness. They do so precisely when their images contribute to destabilising the sovereign, inquisitive gaze that initially appeared as crucial to their documentary ambition. Alterity then finds its place in our world, in so far as the gaze lets itself be altered – by the uncanny quality of digitally generated images, which our sensory system struggles to process, but also by the reciprocal contamination which those images evidence between documentary and imaginative representation, science and fiction.
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https://hal.univ-lorraine.fr/hal-02951694
Contributor : Diane Leblond <>
Submitted on : Monday, September 28, 2020 - 7:48:31 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 4:10:32 AM

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  • HAL Id : hal-02951694, version 1

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Diane Leblond. Ways of Seeing animals: Documenting and Imag(in)ing the Other in the Digital Turn. InMedia. The French Journal of Media and Media Representations in the English-Speaking World, In press, Ubiquitous Visuality. ⟨hal-02951694⟩

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