Editorial: Skip Norman. Filmmaker, Cinematographer, Visual Anthropologist, Teacher

In March 2018, we screened five films directed by Wilbert Reuben “Skip” Norman (1933–2015). We knew little about him and his work. Some of us had seen Blues People, which is available online; others were familiar with the essays and documents about Skip Norman’s work on the website dffb-archiv.de which was established when the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB) turned fifty in 2016. We were also aware that Skip Norman was a prolific cinematographer at the school—he had belonged to the first cohort of students in 1966, just like Helke Sander, Johannes Beringer, Hartmut Bitomsky, Günter Peter Straschek, Holger Meins, Gerd Conradt, and Harun Farocki. In 1968, he worked as a cameraman for Farocki’s student shorts White Christmas and Their Newspapers. Together with Farocki, he was also part of the team for Helke Sander’s Break the Power of the Manipulators.

Watching the five films, which can be found in the archives of Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek and Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art in the company of an engaged audience made a strong impression on us. Three of the films—Blues People, Cultural Nationalism, and his diploma film Strange Fruit—were made in West Berlin, the other two—Washington D.C. November 1970 and Blackman’s Voluntary Army of Liberation—in the USA. All of them are concerned with negotiating contemporary and historic oppression and discrimination, addressing Black Power politics, and confronting the violence of the US war in Vietnam. They also reflect the diasporic situation of an African American filmmaker living and working in West Berlin.

We formed a small, informal group: Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe, Madeleine Bernstorff, Brigitta Kuster, Doreen Mende, Tom Holert, Elsa de Seynes, and Volker Pantenburg. Later, Pascal Maslon joined us. We wanted to know more. A project was born, and the Archive außer sich context offered the framework for us to pursue it. Once we started to do research, it became clear that there was a lot to learn and to share.

Skip Norman, born 1933 in Baltimore, came to Germany in the early 1960s, at a time when the Civil Rights Movement in the US was gaining momentum. Before enrolling at the DFFB, he studied medicine and then German Studies in Göttingen. In the mid 1970s, he went back to the USA to study at the Ohio State University, starting with a BA, then continuing to do an MA and an interdisciplinary PhD in anthropology, sociology, photography, and cinema. Photography and visual anthropology became the focus of his research, both in his own work and his teaching, which he continued between 1996 and 2006 as Associate Professor at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus.

But let’s not rush things. We are only at the beginning of our learning process, and the upcoming parts of Rosa Mercedes, to be released every two months, will be one of the places to share it.

January 2021


Imprint: Rosa Mercedes 03/A, “Skip Norman: Filmmaker, Cinematographer, Visual Anthropologist, Teacher”

Editor: Harun Farocki Institut

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.

Rosa Mercedes 03 is presented by the Harun Farocki Institut in cooperation with the German Film Office, an initiative of the Goethe-Institut and German Films. It is published in the context of Archive außer sich, a project of Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art within the cooperation The Whole Life: An Archive Project, together with Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Pina Bausch Foundation and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Archive außer sich is part of HKW’s project The New Alphabet, supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag.

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January 28th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03