Editorial: Skip Norman. In His Own Words

The first part of this volume of Rosa Mercedes contains texts and documents written by Skip Norman—fragments of a written autoportrait, produced at various moments of his working life.

The documents span several decades and highlight some of the different geographical, cultural, and working contexts in which Skip Norman lived. The earliest document, presumably written around 1967, at the beginning of his time as a film student at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB), provides insights into his life before coming to West Berlin and enrolling at the newly established film school. It is written in German and entitled “Autobiographische Erläuterungen.” In a few paragraphs, Norman revisits his years in Göttingen (1961–65), which were marked by a strong interest in the German language and the theater, a brief phase studying medicine (1964–65), and two subsequent years in Denmark where he worked in a metal factory.

Three and a half decades later, in 2002, he looks back at his time at the DFFB in a filmed conversation with fellow student Gerd Conradt. Conradt paid a visit to Skip Norman in Northern Cyprus, where Norman had been living and teaching anthropology and photography since 1996. Their conversation focuses on Holger Meins, a prolific cinematographer who was friends with both as a fellow student at the DFFB. Meins later decided to join the Red Army Faction (RAF) and died in 1974 after a hunger strike in jail. Apart from sharing memories of Meins, the exchange between Norman and Conradt, two friends with a shared history, conveys a lot about the film school and its phase of politization in 1967 and 1968. Gerd Conradt uploaded the video to YouTube in 2015, and we provide a written transcript of their conversation.

Two documents from the publication DFFB “volljährig” fast-forward to the mid-1980s. Asked to contribute to a survey amongst the alumni, Norman sends a personal letter to Helene Schwarz, the school’s secretary. In the meantime, he had returned to the USA and earned an interdisciplinary PhD in anthropology, sociology, photography, and cinema at the Ohio State University in Columbus. In his answers, he self-critically positions his work as an independent filmmaker: “If the work of an independent is acceptable to the cultural gatekeepers (those who decide who gets money and how much), money is available. If the work of an independent is not acceptable (and this is not always a question of skill or competence), money is, obviously, not available. Although there is no direct cultural censorship, independents, nevertheless, walk a cultural tightrope because of the ethnocentricity of the majority culture. And most decisions in these agencies, that broker the little money available, are made by members of the majority culture. They are the ones with the decision-making jobs.” Despite these difficult circumstances, he maintains: “Although independent production is painful, frustrating, time consuming and exploitative, it provides the only avenue for the expression and advocacy that can be free of the onus of making money.” Both the survey and the letter to Helene Schwarz reveal a lot about Skip Norman’s ethos of work and life at the time: “When I am not making films in actual practice, I am making films in my mind. Otherwise I read and live to learn.”

One of the models he read and learned from is the author, folklorist, anthropologist, and ethnographic filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston. He wrote an article about her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) in 1990 for the Nora Zeale Hurston Journal, which is republished in this issue.

Later, in his practice of teaching photography and ethnography in Northern Cyprus, filmmaking seems to have played a minor role. In three short paragraphs entitled “Ethnography,” probably addressed to his students, Skip Norman gives a beautiful definition of this (historically highly problematic) discipline: “Ethnography means learning about the culture from the culture.” And he optimistically adds: “This cultural knowledge is like a recipe for organizing the necessary ingredients for a viable social life.”

In the section “Documents,” which runs parallel to the subsequent parts of this issue of Rosa Mercedes, we provide a short piece of film which Ingrid Oppermann found amongst the 8-mm material that she kept from around 1970.

Volker Pantenburg, January 2021


Imprint: Rosa Mercedes 03/A, “Skip Norman: In His Own Words”

Research Team: Madeleine Bernstorff, Elsa de Seynes, Kodwo Eshun, Tom Holert, Brigitta Kuster, Pascal Maslon, Doreen Mende, Volker Pantenburg, Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe

Editor: Volker Pantenburg

Production: Harun Farocki Institut

Managing Editor: Pascal Maslon

Proofreading: Mandi Gomez

Thanks to Skip Norman’s family, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb), Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Ingrid Oppermann, Gerd Conradt, and Johannes Beringer.

We have made every effort to clarify all rights of use with regard to the publication of the images and texts used here. In a few cases, despite intensive research, we have not been able to clarify the rights holders. Please contact the Harun Farocki Institut in case of any legal claims.

Wir haben uns bemüht, alle Nutzungsrechte bezüglich der Veröffentlichung der hier verwendeten Bilder und Texte zu klären. In wenigen Fällen ist es uns trotz intensiver Recherche nicht gelungen, die Rechteinhaber zu klären. Bitte wenden Sie sich bei etwaigen Rechtsansprüchen an das Harun Farocki Institut.


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January 19th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / A

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022

Vasyl Cherepanyn (Visual Culture Research Centre, Kyiv) on Putin’s “World War Z” and the West’s deadly “foot-dragging”, via Project Syndicate: “The main feature of this Western condition is constant belatedness. The West has always been too late, incapable of acting ahead and instead just reacting to what has already happened. As a Ukrainian joke went at the time, ‘While the European Union was taking a decision, Russia took Crimea.’ Then as now, Ukrainians wondered, ‘What is the West’s red line? What will compel the West to act instead of waiting and discussing when to intervene?’”

Barbara Wurm on Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius, killed in Mariupol, via Die Welt: “Kvedaravičius unfolded a whole spectrum of visual anthropology over a decade with only three films [Barzakh, Mariupolis, Parthenon]. It now awaits evaluation and exploration. The time will come. The films themselves make possible an infinite immersion in the matter of the world, between dream and reality, horror and everyday life, facts and phenomenal imagology.”

April 5th, 2022

Statement by #AfricansFromUA on Equal Treatment via e-flux notes: “Non-Ukrainian nationals from the war in Ukraine arriving in Germany have been facing very different terms of treatment—both in different federal states and cities but also within the very same city throughout time and different facilities. While some received so called ‘Fictitious Certificates’ for one year without further procedures others were pressured to submit an asylum application with their finger prints registered and passports seized. Again others were given a so called “Duldung” including the threat of deportation.”

April 5th, 2022
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