Founded in 1998 by American video artist and activist Alexandra Halkin, the Chiapas Media Project – which became ProMedios de Comunicación Comunitaria in 2003 – trained and then helped Zapatista activists in Chiapas, Mexico, to create their own media productions until 2010. Based on an ethnographic investigation that lasted several months in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, this research project accompanied and analyzed the process of digitizing and archiving the videos produced by the ProMedios collective.
This “ethnographic action research” (Tacchi 2015), combining ethnographic methods with the development and analysis of technical tools adapted to the social and political structures of the collective, consisted first of a precise inventory of the archive and a data management plan. Following his previous research work in Romania, he then carried out a first technical analysis of the magnetic tapes (Mini-DV, Hi8, VHS and Digital8) and then trained a team that will be in charge of the digitization of 1350 videotapes.
The collaboration with members of the collective, local hackers, and with engineers and archivists who are working on open-source software for the preservation of the tapes, led to the establishment of an experimental digitization studio in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a first in Chiapas.
As an anthropologist and filmmaker, trained in social anthropology (EHESS) and film history (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3), Jonathan Larcher has conducted several fieldworks in Romania where his work and films have focused on social life, music and video practices within a Roma neighborhood. Since 2018 his work has focused more specifically on the media infrastructures that have made the videotape their main element. In 2019-2020, as part of a fellowship at New Europe College in Bucharest, he conducted a research on “A Social History of Vernacular Videos during the Post-Socialist Transition in Romania,” which shows the diverse trajectories of tapes and people, from the pirate studios of the 1980s to the emergence of local television and commissioned home movies, in the following decades. In 2021, with a post-doctoral fellowship from Eur ArTeC, Jonathan Larcher began a new ethnographic investigation of the video archive of the ProMedios collective in order to preserve it. In Chiapas, since the 1994 uprising, as in Romania, for more than thirty years, video cassettes have participated in the elaboration of consubstantial links between technical systems and social organizations, forming true ecosystems. In relation to these investigations, his teaching and editorial projects focus on the intersections between the different fields of visual anthropology (experimental ethnography, media anthropology, sound anthropology) and those of film studies. As part of a collective research project on contemporary filmic forms and practices within autochthonous struggles, he is participating in the publication of a volume, published by Sternberg Press (2023), which includes the testimonies of numerous activists, filmmakers and researchers. In addition, he is co-editing with Alo Paistik a book on the practice of reusing film archives by artists Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi (Amsterdam University Press), and he is coordinating with Nicole Brenez and Alo Paistik the translation of the writings of political filmmaker John Gianvito (Éditions de l’Œil).
Video, conclusion of the post-doctoral project
Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, tuteur (Professeur d’études cinématographiques, Laboratoire HAR, Université Paris Nanterre)