The looking machine

Essays on cinema, anthropology and documentary filmmaking

By David MacDougall

The looking machine


  • eBook
  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3411-0
  • Pages: 224
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £19.99
  • Published Date: January 2019
  • BIC Category: Anthropology, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General, SOCIAL SCIENCE / General, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, The arts / Films, cinema, The arts / Documentary films, Society & social sciences / Anthropology, Anthropology, Film history, theory & criticism, Documentary films
  • Series: Anthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography


This new collection of essays presents the latest thoughts of one of the world's leading ethnographic filmmakers and writers on cinema. It will provide essential reading for students in cinema studies, filmmaking, and visual anthropology. The dozen wide-ranging essays give unique insights into the history of documentary, how films evoke space, time and physical sensations, and the intellectual and emotional links between filmmakers and their subjects. In an era of reality television, historical re-enactments, and designer packaging, MacDougall defends the principles that inspired the earliest practitioners of documentary cinema. He urges us to consider how the form can more accurately reflect the realities of our everyday lives. Building on his own practice in filmmaking, he argues that this means resisting the pressures for self-censorship and the inherent ethnocentrism of our own society and those we film.


'MacDougall is masterful in writing succinctly about how audiences and their bodies connect to the films that they are watching. The Looking Machine is a must read for those interested in the history and humanity of movies.'

'This book is a tour de force, tracing the formation of the field of visual anthropology in dialogue with those documentary-makers and early photographers, whom MacDougall commends for rejecting 'sanitized or highly edited accounts of what we witness', and instead portraying 'the particularities of everyday life - painful, awkward or pleasurable'. What I cherish most about this book is the insistent thread of 'looking' and what the camera affords: An embodied, sensuous cinema where the camera figures as an extension of the body and consciousness, allowing us to see differently. There is something for readers well acquainted with MacDougall's writing in this book, as well as for newcomers to his oeuvre; for students and practitioners within film (studies), anthropology, and related disciplines. The many examples and references are a rich resource, and the reader should set aside time for watching film clips alongside reading this book. The Looking Machine inaugurates the Manchester University Press' Series in Anthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography, and beautifully sets the scene for the books to come.'



Part I: Filmmaking as practice
1 Looking with a camera
2 Dislocation as method
3 Camera, mind, and eye
4 Environments of childhood

Part II: Film and the senses
5 The third tendency in cinema
6 Sensational cinema
7 The experience of colour
8 Notes on cinematic space

Part III: Film, anthropology and the documentary tradition
9 Observation in the cinema
10 Anthropology and the cinematic imagination
11 Anthropological filmmaking: an empirical art
12 Documentary and its doubles



David MacDougall is an Honorary Professor in the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University, Canberra

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