The concept of an invisible wall is often used by documentary film-makers to emphasize that what goes on in the interactions that are being documented should be strictly separated from both the artefacts and the work of the camera crew doing the recording. The social situation is consciously divided into two parts. The invisible wall is important for documentarians, given the historical and commercial development of their relationship with producers, distributors, and audiences, and the need to maintain the illusion of non-presence. Our experience with digital video as part of a research practice is just the opposite. A videoactive context, understood as analogous to an interactive context, is a social situation with potential and known recording capacity, created by the presence of a loaded camera, learn the facts here. Not only is the illusion of non-presence unimportant for most purposes, the maintenance of an invisible wall results in a loss of opportunities. No invisible wall separates actors from production crew in the videoactive context. Rather, & fluid wall separates participants who discuss filming, frame shots— and may even exchange roles. In the digital era, it is not a complicated job to press a button toggling a camcorder from Standby to Record.
The idea of a fluid wall reflects, first, the traditional duality of participant observation in the context of digital video technology, and, second, a normative principle of interaction. First, any investigator enters a research setting— organization, subculture, or pre-modem society— as a guest from an alternative professional context (usually academic). Anyone who resides or re-enters a research context on a regular basis acquires a special status. This status of observer arises because of differences between investigator and subjects. The status of participant arises because of sameness. When the difference is symbolized by technological apparatus such as camcorders, cables, mixers, and microphones, the visual expressions of observer status can overwhelm— at least at the outset— any semblance of normal participant behaviour. When technologies become complex, the difference is also symbolized by interactions involving manipulations and technical terminology. As documentarians and Hollywood production crews have long known, they represent a fascinating subculture, with advanced technological apparatus that is continually the subject of questions and intense examination. Likewise, the academic videographer is immediately conscious that observation occurs in both directions. With your digital video gear, you may come to feel that you are the one with the camera and, therefore, the subject of study! We emphasize that the fluid wall pertains to digital video as research practice and not as a presentational medium: it is distracting and usually no informative to see a movie of people continually mugging for the camera and referring to the fact that they are being filmed.
So the fluid wall is partly a simple expression of the fact that behaviour and observation occur in both directions— in front of and behind the camera. But it is also a normative principle that recognizes the mutual benefits of open communication and adaptable interactions. Both these shape investigative strategies, sharpen the observational edge, and suggest new directions for research practice. This means that as an investigator, you must be willing and eager to educate-to show your subjects how the technology works, what you are doing, to explain the potentials and dangers. Furthermore, you must be willing to turn the camera on yourself— to let them film you, to signal your role as participant as well as observer. Finally, though it occurs less frequently, you must be willing to let the subjects fix the camera on you, allowing the subjects to play the role of film-maker.