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.

go to top

January 28th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03

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
moreless news