What the camera can and cannot do

In his lectures about his trip to Ukraine and Central Asia Ross showed and told his audiences in Berlin and Vienna about how his hand-cranked camera sent frightened Turkmen women fleeing into their yurts.

This little narrative is an example of one of the most common elements of portrayals by ethnographic filmmakers and photographers. In describing Merv, in Turkmenistan under Russian rule, Ross reflects in a similar, stereotypical manner on the "color splendor" of the women’s dresses. However,  it has no ethnographic or historical significance whatsoever, as Ross’s focus is purely exotic, without any contextual knowledge. It is no coincidence, therefore, that reviewers of these lectures rather pointed to the strength of the reporter’s perspective and his eagerness to capture particulars.1

The episode, however, also shows the limitations of the given technical devices and recording conditions. The film was in black and white, as was common at that time—and, according to a number of reviews, of bad quality—, while the slides were only partly colored. The remedy of this lack was reserved for the book and the accompanying words of the lecturer, as the reviews imply.

Katalin Teller

Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] In der Oase Merw. In: Der Weg nach Osten. Reise durch Rußland, Ukraine, Transkaukasien, Persien, Buchara und Turkestan. Leipzig: F.A.Brockhaus; 1923; 243-246.
Topic: Profession: reporter
Case: Speaking engagements


1 Jac. Colin Roß als Filmoperateur. BZ am Mittag: 1923 Feb 16; 46 (46); [3]; Anonymous. Mit dem Kurbelkasten durch Zentral-Asien. Forscher, Journalist und Filmoperateur. Berliner Morgenpost: 1923 Feb 17; 41; 1. See Library.

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