Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky
UChicago Assistant Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the College,
Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky works on transnational political cinema, with a special focus on Latin America. She takes a comparativist and broadly hemispheric approach to the representation of race, labor, and “the people” in moving image media.
Her first book, The Process Genre: Cinema and the Aesthetic of Labor (Duke University Press, 2020), introduces and theorizes a hitherto unrecognized transmedial genre that she calls “the process genre.” The process genre, she argues, may be seen across the history of cinema and in multiple national contexts. Indeed, the process genre is ubiquitous in the contemporary mediascape, with examples that range from Ikea assembly guides to internet “hands-and-pans” videos to Mister Rogers’ iconic video, “How people make crayons,” to Bob Ross’s painting tutorials. As these examples suggest, the process genre is characterized by the representation of processes that are shown in a special, often mesmerizing fashion. These processes are typically processes of production—both artisanal and industrial—and, crucially, are represented as having a chronologically ordered series of steps with a clearly identifiable beginning, middle, and end. The book argues that while the process genre’s first exemplars emerge in the early modern period with how-to manuals, technical machine drawings, and what E. H. Gombrich called “pictorial instructions,” it is in the medium of cinema that the process genre achieves its most impressive and characteristic results. Across the history of cinema, the process film is well represented in nonfiction categories such as the industrial film, the educational film, and the ethnographic film—as well as in art cinema. The Process Genre proposes that the broader cultural significance of the process genre is in its formal approach to the representation of labor, which—regardless of the actual kind of labor being depicted—it casts as skilled and artisanal. As a result, the exemplars of the process genre often stake out ideological positions from across the political spectrum on the meaning of labor in human life.
Skvirsky is currently pursuing two book-length projects. The first is a historical and theoretical treatment of the device of the talking head in nonfiction filmmaking. The second—tentatively titled “Filming the Police”—is a comparativist treatment of the topic of police on screens that brings together the ubiquity of police shows in televisual media with the surveillant and sousveillant recordings of police violence in the digital age.