The British Documentary Awards (or “The Griersons”) have just announced that this year’s award for Most Entertaining Documentary has been presented to Banksy’s film Exit through the gift shop. In accepting this prize, the mysterious and increasingly famous graffiti artist has not renounced his usual anonymity but has provided instead a pre-filmed acceptance speech in which he appears disguised and shows a customized graffiti version of his award. When the film was originally released, he also made a disguised media appearance in order to explain the genesis and subject of the documentary. In this appearance he stated:“The film is the story of when this guy tried to make a documentary about me, where he was actually a lot more interesting than I am, and now the film is kind of about him” (extracted from Ian Burrell’s blog Banksy wins award for documentary). In this instance then, the gaze of the camera was turned and used to provide a vision of Banksy’s world and street art in which the supposed filmmaker (known as Thierry Guetta) became part of the story being told.
Engaging with the power of the visual has been extremely important for the discipline of geography. Developments in critical scholarship and research methods have brought to the fore the potential of using visual approaches to reach and empower the voices of those who have traditionally been absent from knowledge production. In an article for Area, Sara Kindon (2003) provides an overview of participatory video techniques and how they can enable a feminist gaze or, in her words, “a feminist practice of looking”. Importantly, she argues for the use of participatory video in a way that does not perpetuate hierarchical power relations but instead carefully negotiates research partnerships and develops practices of looking nearby and not looking at (Kindon, 2003: 149).