Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


Reviving the archives as pictorial histories

Location Anthropology Library
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 11:00


Ben Burt (British Museum)  email
Gaye Sculthorpe (British Museum)  email
 Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel will explore issues raised in using archived images of persons, places and artefacts to represent the history and culture of peoples who have been colonised and photographed in ways which will benefit them as well as us.

Long Abstract

This panel will explore issues raised in using archived images of persons, places and artefacts to represent the history and culture of peoples who have been colonised and photographed in ways which will benefit them as well as us. Beyond considering the perspectives conveyed by photographers and collectors, colonial, academic and indigenous, it will focus on how the images can be presented, interpreted and disseminated as anthropologically-informed descriptions of the colonial and global transformations of the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries.

What collections of photographs communicate which written histories and ethnographies cannot, and what information will they distort or obscure? How may they represent local perspectives, especially those alien to the photographers? What are the technical, practical and ethical issues involved in presenting and repatriating pictorial histories? Papers will address such questions through case studies of particular photographic projects.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Hidden Treasure of Historic Photographs from Papua New Guinea

Author: Jan Hasselberg email

Short Abstract

The great volume of historic photographs from what today is Papua New Guinea have great (potential) importance for today’s local population and for academics. Focusing on images from the time just after contact I will discuss several aspects of this, using photographs from a great number of archives.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will point to the great volume of historic photographs from what today is Papua New Guinea, and show some aspects of their importance for today's Papua New Guineans, as well as for academics and the general public.

The paper is based on my research and visits to many archives in Europe and Australia carried out for a book I published last year and for an up-coming project, and on my intimate knowledge of some PNG communities.

The photographic collections kept at many different institutions world wide show a wide specter of themes and subjects, and in every collection there are hidden treasures to be found, whatever you are looking for. The agendas of photographers a century ago were often different from those of todays, but photos can be of interest even if we are critical to the reasons why, or the situations in which they were taken. Some have an academic interest, others will be important for the local communities, and some will be interesting for all.

I will comment on such topics with help of photographs from a wide specter of photographers, from many different archives, and taken in many different parts of PNG. I will concentrate on photos taken not too long after first contact. Extra attention will be given to the photographers Capt. F.R. Barton, Lajos Biró, Percy J. Money, Diamond Jenness and Hugo Bernatzik - each with a different set of agendas .

The availability of these historic records, in our digital age, will also be mentioned.

Restoring a photographic record of the Marquesan past: The St George Expedition to the South Sea Islands, 1924-25

Author: Natasha McKinney email

Short Abstract

The paper is focused on the limitations and potential of the photographic records from the St George Expedition to the Marquesas Islands, 1924-25, led by James Hornell.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the 1924-1925 St George Expedition to the South Sea Islands, directed by marine zoologist and ethnologist James Hornell, and the photographic record and object collection deriving from the expedition's visit to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. The expedition was the first and the last to be undertaken by the Scientific Expeditionary Research Association, which was established in 1922, with an Advisory Council made up of representatives from British scientific societies, and including leading anthropologists. Hornell defined the ethnological aims of the expedition in narrow terms and clearly considered himself as participating in 'salvage anthropology'. His enquiries and collecting were almost exclusively focussed on gathering evidence relating to the Marquesan past, rather than on contemporary life in the islands. Hornell, like others, considered there to be little value in examining post-contact Marquesan society, which had been dramatically affected by contact and colonisation. The photographs from the Expedition, now in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, are a visual manifestation of Hornell's research agenda, featuring megalithic architecture, and portraits of elderly, tattooed Marquesans. Thus, the expedition records taken as a whole present a limited view of Marquesan society, and represent a missed opportunity to more fully record knowledge and practices in the early twentieth century. However, the objects (now in the British Museum, MAA and the Pitt Rivers Museum) and the photographs are rare examples of their kind and the contemporary relevance of the collection for Marquesans is significant.

"Through Arctic Siberia With My Camera" - Maria Czaplicka and her photographs of her Yenisei Expedition, 1914-1915

Author: Grazyna Kubica-Heller (Jagiellonian University) email

Short Abstract

The collection of fieldwork photographs made by Maria Czaplicka can be seen as telling us various "stories": of scientific exploration, of Evenki and other Siberian individuals and their life, of artistic images, of the photographer's attempts to improve her imperfect results.

Long Abstract

I would like to recall a Polish-British anthropologist, Maria Czaplicka (1884-1921), a Siberian fieldworker and the author of a book, My Siberian Year, which can be seen as one of the first reflexive and literary accounts of ethnographic fieldwork. She took a few hundred photographs during her expedition. Most of them represented people, members of various aboriginal "races". They were to serve "scientific" purpose to illustrate "human types" together with anthropometric measurements. The collection is a good example of the scientific discourse of the time, but also a popular way to represent others on postcards and in newspapers.

I have consulted the collection with various experts (including an Evenk one) what enabled me to find various "stories" photographs can tell us. Another interesting point is connected with technical imperfection of Czaplicka's photographs. These faulty images are still seen as interesting and engaging by representatives of indigenous populations or artistic vievers. It is also worth exploring how the photographer herself tried to overcome her "faults" by retouching and other modifications.

In my explorations I am following theoretical perspectives of Edwards, Morton and Pinney.

Social and material change in the early colonial Solomon Islands photograph collections of Charles Morris Woodford

Author: Aoife O'Brien (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the Solomon Islands photograph collection of Charles Morris Woodford, which documented a society engaging with the imposition of colonial rule and its associated social and material changes.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the photograph collections of Charles Morris Woodford (1852-1927), taken in the Solomon Islands during Woodford's visits in the late 1880's. An amateur naturalist, Woodford undertook three visits to the Solomons beginning in 1886, believing them to be relatively untouched by European influences. However, he quickly discovered these were not the "pristine" islands of his imagination. Although not yet under formal European control, these were islands and peoples fully immersed within colonial trade and material economies. In his photographic record, Woodford chose to document the people he encountered, taking portraits of indigenous people mostly in "traditional" dress, yet some chiefs were photographed wearing European dress, perhaps understanding such items as markers of status and rank. Woodford also took advantage of opportunities to photograph some of the more private aspects of Solomons society, photographing ancestral shrines and human skulls displayed within a canoe house.

Using Woodford's photographs, now digitised and held at the ANU, along with reference to the diaries from his first visits to the Solomons and his extensive ethnographic collections, this paper examines how Woodford's photographs offer documentation of a society that was gradually falling under greater colonial control, yet one in which customary practices and modes of life were continued. His photographs demonstrate the potentialities offered in combining photographic, artefact and archival research to reinvigorate and challenge our perceptions of how Solomon Islanders negotiated with the imposition of colonial rule. They also show how Woodford used his position as an outsider to enable access to people, places and things.

The making of a community, the making of a photo collection in a rural community in Italy

Author: Michele Filippo Fontefrancesco (University of Gastronomic Sciences) email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the collection of historic, private photos and the creation of a public photographic archive as a community building process: The retrieval, donation and engagement through exhibitions of the photos allow people to engage with and reinvent their sense of community and its past.

Long Abstract

Photos are per excellence evocative objects (Turkle, 2007). The paper interrogates the role of the capacity of the photos to trigger narrations about the self and the past. It argues that the collection of historic, private photos and the creation of a public photographic archive act as a community building process.

The paper is the result of an ethnographic work conducted in Lu (AL) between 2010 and 2012. In this village, the local museum organized a public collection of private and public photos dated from the late decades of the 19th century to the 1960s, in order to create a freely accessible internet archive. In a few months, in a village of about 1000 people, over 1000 photos were donated. On the basis of the collected photos, the museum organized periodical exhibitions that attracted many hundred visitors.

The research investigates the entire process of photo collection, collective organization of a new photographic archive, its use for the organization of photo exhibitions, and the participation to these initiatives by local and foreign visitors. In particular focusing on the exhibitions as arena of social interactions, the paper investigates the process of evocation of the past of the community as a way through which the sense of belonging to a community, that is the very sense of community , is negotiated and re-shaped.

The metamorphose of the indentured labour photographic archive Mauritius

Author: Kathleen Harrington-Watt (Canterbury University New Zealand) email

Short Abstract

The indentured labour photographic archive in Mauritius was created as a system of surveillance and control from 1862-1920. This paper will discuss the metamorphose of these photographic portraits from objects of control into powerful and desirable markers of ancestral connectivity and identity.

Long Abstract

The indentured labour photographic archive of Mauritius was created over a period of 60 years. Today, 125,000 photographic portraits remain intact; housed in a purpose built room as part of the National Archives of Mauritius. This paper will discuss how the archive represents, in visual form, the ending of slavery; the consequential system of indentured labour, and the circumstances of thousands of people who chose, or needed, to leave their homelands for alternative sources of work. I will argue the significance of this archive in the history of photography, as well as, colonial histories in both the Indian Ocean and other colonial sites of indentured labour. I will also discuss how this archive today, and its individual portraits, have metamorphed into highly valued objects of national, political, ancestral and familial significance. The complex social relationships surrounding the indentured labour archives exemplify the instrinsic nature of photographs and archives to slip, shift and adapt to changing social contexts.

Invisible Archives

Authors: Catherine De Lorenzo (University of NSW, Sydney) email
Juno Gemes (Juno Gemes Archives) email

Short Abstract

The speakers ask why is it that so much of the visual archive documenting Indigenous struggles in Australia during the 1970s and 80s has become invisible in recent photohistories and survey exhibitions.

Long Abstract

The twenty-one years 1967 to 1988 marking the granting of Aboriginal citizenship to the bicentennial of British colonization of Australia, saw the establishment of numerous official and unofficial Aboriginal institutions within Australia, sustained struggles for land rights and self determination, and a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. Throughout this period and beyond, there exists a substantial photographic record of the people and places indelibly linked to these changes. Much of this post-colonial material can be found in public libraries and pictorial Indigenous histories. The1982 exhibition After the Tent Embassy, which contrasted the colonial and physical anthropological archive with contemporary images of activism and optimism, showed the extent to which non-Indigenous photographers enthusiastically worked with and for Indigenous communities to capture radical transformations within Aboriginal society. However, much of the Aboriginal-commissioned photo documentation and interpretation of Indigenous projects has become all but invisible within contemporary photo discourses, whether presented in photo histories or recent survey exhibitions. At the same time it would seem that the radical activist concept of 'self determination' for Aboriginal land rights has become a signifier for self identity, memory and the reworking of the photo archives (Jonathan Jones, 2011). Having introduced the period and relevant photographic archives, the speakers, photo historian De Lorenzo and activist photographer Gemes who has long contributed to the historic archive, will ask why it is that current textual and exhibition surveys of the period omit key images documenting the struggles for landrights, preferring instead images of individual identity and aspiration?

Engaging Archival Sources to Interrogate the Colonial Past: a Case Study from Cold War Puerto Rico

Authors: Katherine McCaffrey (Montclair State University) email
Bonnie Donohue (School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) email

Short Abstract

This presentation describes a productive collaboration to transform archival material into a visually powerful and critically engaging examination of colonial history. The archival documents themselves become not only a source, but also the subject of display, and a way of interrogating colonial power.

Long Abstract

This presentation describes a productive collaboration between a photographer and a cultural anthropologist to transform archival material into a visually powerful and critically engaging examination of colonial history. Our exhibition, "Killing Mapepe: Sex and Death in Cold War Vieques" unpacks the 1953 killing of a Puerto Rican civilian by U.S. servicemen who, fresh from combat in the Korean War, instigated a violent brawl near a military base on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Despite courts-martial prosecutions, there were no convictions, creating a bitter cultural memory in Vieques. Utilizing military archives as material and visual sources, we revive attention to this unresolved crime and the broader problem of military perpetrated violence against civilians.

Our presentation is a case study of how photography, history, and ethnography can fuel new inspirations for enlivening archival material and communicating the relevance of the past to a broad public. We discuss our approach to transforming dry bureaucratic data into an emotionally compelling and multi-faceted historical narrative. Photographs, interviews, text and video combine with raw testimony from the courts-martial investigations to shape the narrative structure of the exhibition. Thus the archival documents themselves become not only a source, but also the subject of display, and a way of interrogating colonial power.

We will consider the impact of exhibiting this show in Vieques and elsewhere, where we initiated uncomfortable conversations about sexual exploitation and racially fueled violence that are often silenced when discussing the U.S. military.

Points of Focus: an exhibition of historical photographs from the Pacific Islands

Author: Rebecca Conway (University of Sydney) email

Short Abstract

The use of museum photo collections in the exhibition, Points of Focus: historic photographs from the Pacific Islands (Sydney Uni, Macleay Museum, 2014). The exhibition marries aspects of history to images to excite and expand an understanding of the region and its peoples in the early colonial period.

Long Abstract

From the mid-19th century Europeans developed a keen appetite for photographs of Pacific Islanders. Many of these images, today housed in institutional collections, have little specific associated contextual data or documentation. So - how can we invite interest in and increase engagement with collections we sometimes know little about?

Targeted research and promotion through exhibition can expand knowledge and excite curiosity in museum collections. This was the rationale for the Macleay Museum exhibition, Points of Focus: historic photographs from the Pacific Islands. Using five broad themes - community, landscape, spirituality, governance and the market, the exhibition encourages the audience to not simply take images at face value. Histories were built around small groups of photographs to show how they might be 'read' in the absence of specific primary data. Examples from the exhibition range from individual-level histories such that of Maori King Tāwhiao illustrated by commercial studio portraits, to aspects of village and community history accessed through anthropological fieldwork photos, to capital, whole island and regional histories told via the lens of missionary, scientific and governmental images.

The exhibitions intent is illustrate how thinking beyond the frame might allow us to engage with the historical milieu of 19th century Pacific Islanders. It also seeks to promote the relevance of historic photographs to understanding the region of today. Ultimately it aims to go some way towards re-claiming and reinstating the place of historic photographs as important evidence of and vehicles for the telling of many and diverse histories.

Lord Moyne's anthropological expeditions in south Papua

Authors: Nick Stanley (The British Museum) email
Susanne Hammacher (Übersee-Museum Bremen) email

Short Abstract

This paper traces the visual record of Lord Moyne’s 1936 Walkabout visit to West Papua (his third such visit) and the ways in which it involved the British Museum and the Royal Anthropological Institute in its inception, execution and legacy.

Long Abstract

The presentation will explore four sources of visual material:

(1) The 1936 album of photographs belonging to Lord Moyne's nephew, Lord Arthur Alveden who was a member of the party

(2) The 1936 photographs of Lady Vera Broughton taken on this trip and deposited at the British Museum, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography and the Pitt Rivers Museum

(3) The 16mm film clips made by Lady Broughton deposited at the RAI and recently restored

(4) The 16 mm films of Lord Elveden shown at the RAI benefit exhibition in London in 1936 recently restored

The intention is to make all of this material digitally available for the newly rebuilt Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats, Asmat, West Papua where it will provide further documentation of the Asmat people from the central and coastal regions to be added to the local museum database now under construction.

This archival material also offers an opportunity to rethink the ontological status of this corpus of visual material. For example, there is in Moyne's research programme a lively interest in documenting the undocumented which inevitably meant meeting and negotiating with those they met. In turn this involved Moyne and his party discovering the protocols and ethical concerns involved in the Maussian discourse of barter and trade (Mauss The Gift 1990, Robbins 'Rethinking gifts and commodities 2009). Documenting this exchange was a major focus of the photographic record as well as the book Walkabout which offered an account of the expedition

Picturing a History of Malaita, Solomon Islands

Author: Ben Burt (British Museum) email

Short Abstract

This paper is introduces a history of Malaita island based on images of persons, places and artefacts made over more than a century, with a focus on the interpretation of images to present an anthropologically-informed description and on the technical, practical and ethical issues involved.

Long Abstract

This paper is a draft Introduction to a history of Malaita island based on images of persons, places and artefacts from more than a century of involvement in the wider world. It will give a historical review of the sources of the images, colonial, academic and indigenous, illustrated by a selection annotated for publication by the British Museum as a digital catalogue or book. The focus of the presentation will be how such a pictorial assemblage can be interpreted to present an anthropologically-informed description of Malaita, its culture and colonial transformation during the twentieth century. What can an assemblage of images from a diverse range of sources communicate which written history and ethnography cannot? How should the images be classified and described to realise this potential? What information will the collection omit or obscure? How may it represent local perspectives on history and culture? What are the technical, practical and ethical issues involved in representing the history of this island in images as an online database or book? Can the experience of this project inform other work to represent local histories through the interpretation of local images?

Camilla Wedgwood's Manam Island Photographs: Temporal Transformations in Indigenous Responses to "Our" Archives as "Their" History

Author: Nancy Lutkehaus (University of Southern California) email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the changing meaning of British anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood’s photographs of Manam Islanders, PNG taken in 1933. It analyzes the significance of the meanings the photos have assumed as pictorial history for the Manam at 3 different points in time, and issues of repatriation.

Long Abstract

The proposed paper analyzes the changing meaning of archival photographs of the Manam Islanders of Papua New Guinea taken by the British anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood in 1933. The photographs are currently housed in the National Library of Australia. I focus on the meanings Wedgwood's photographs have assumed as pictorial history for the Manam Islanders themselves at three different points in time when I, an American anthropologist who subsequently carried out ethnographic research on Manam Island, brought Wedgwood's photographs to Manam. When I first brought copies of the photographs with me to Manam in 1978 the images were treated by many villagers as sacred relics of their deceased ancestors. When I returned to Manam in 1994 to participate in the memorial ritual for the deceased chief of Zogari village, I combined Wedgwood's photos of the chief as a young boy with my own photographs of the chief to create a linear, western-style chronology of the life of the chief and, later, a video. Most recently, when I returned in 2011 with Wedgwood's photographs, these same images were transformed yet again. As a result of a violent volcanic eruption in 2005, the Manam were forced to evacuate their island home. For the Manam, who are still not allowed to return to live on the island, Wedgwood's photographs have apotheosized into a relic of a former way of life and sacred place now lost to them forever. I conclude with a discussion the issues involved in permanently repatriating these images to the islanders.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.