ALTAR is an audio-visual laboratory for anthropological research located in The Cairns Institute and College for Art, Society and Education at James Cook University (JCU). We specialise in places and people of the tropics.

ALTAR was founded in 2013 by then PhD scholars Daniela Vávrová and Bard Aaberge with support from Professor Rosita Henry, Professor Ton Otto, and Dr Michael Wood. The following year Dr Jennifer Deger joined ALTAR as research leader, and we had the official opening of ALTAR with a photographic exhibition and screening of show-reel displaying our members' diverse projects.

Our members are committed to developing practice-lead research that engage with and contribute to the communities with whom we work. We are therefore concerned with not only returning research and other audio-visual materials to communities, but finding ways to make audio-visual research relevant with local concerns and agendas.

ALTAR members understand the camera as a catalyst for creativity, insight and social change. We use practice-lead approaches to generate new kinds of critical ethnography and social theory at a time when the increasing ubiquity of digital technologies and social media recast urgent questions in anthropology and other disciplines, not least those regarding representational and post-representational politics and ethics.

ALTAR members have produced a diverse range of award winning documentaries; experimental art works; photographic and multimedia museum installations. We research and publish widely in areas such as aesthetics, digital technologies and culture change, new media, film theory, visual culture, cultural sensoria, ethnographic media and ethnographic art practice. In 2014 ALTAR was awarded a competitive grant (RIBG) to upgrade the lab and equipment.

We are a laboratory for communicating the heard and seen across the tropics. We value the camera as a technology of sensuous encounter and social engagement. We encourage dialogic approaches and collaborative productions between researchers and communities.

Concerned with socio-cultural specific forms of perception and expression, we welcome innovative approaches to audiovisual methods in ethnographic research, including experimental approaches working between image and text.

ALTAR supports research outcomes in different audiovisual forms, including:

  • Ethnographic films and videos
  • Community-based video and art projects
  • Photographic essays
  • Exhibitions and installations
  • Soundscapes and other audio works
  • Audio and/or visual content for websites

Ultimately, our aim is to foster new ways of knowing and relating to others, using audio-visual technologies as a means of apprehending—and responding to—the lifeworlds and values of the people with whom we work.

Download the ALTAR Manifesto (PDF, 114 KB)

This research initiative takes film, art and exhibition making as a means of engaging communities and the wider public with questions around global transformation and social creativity. It draws together themes of collaboration, new public anthropologies, material culture, visual culture, and art as ethnography. Working at the intersections of the digital, material and visual culture, researchers in this group are variously involved in film making and other forms of image-based work, building curatorial partnerships with museums and cultural organisations, and using digital media to expand ethnographic methods and insights.

The program is closely associated with The Cairns Institute's ALTAR. A key element of this research group involves an on-going collaboration between JCU and the Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University in Denmark, led by Associate Professor Jennifer Deger and Professor Ton Otto, both of whom bring a strong emphasis on practice-led research methods involving film-making, new media and/or exhibition as research method.

Visit the Visual, Digital, Material Research Group for most information.