Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


Folklore and Photography

Location BP Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 29 May, 2014 at 15:30


James Huntley Grayson (The University of Sheffield)  email
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Short Abstract

Like ethnographic fieldwork, field researchers in folklore studies use photography and other visual recording techniques to gather data. In this panel, three folklorists will explore and discuss in a roundtable issues arising from the use of photography.

Long Abstract

In this panel, three representative researchers from The Folklore Society propose to examine the different ways in which folklorists use visual recording techniques, including photography, to gather data while conducting fieldwork. Ethnography and Folklore both had their origins in the development of scientific cultural studies in the late nineteenth century, but grew apart in the course of time. This panel proposes to illustrate how many folklorists draw on the research methods and ideas of anthropology, while still having a distinctive character and approach. One purpose of this panel will be to encourage discussion and collaboration between the disciplines in order to further develop the research and research methodologies of each field. The session will consist of three illustrated presentations and a roundtable discussion.

Chair: Prof. James H. Grayson
Discussant: Dr. Paul Cowdell

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Romance, Reality and Responsibility: Recording the Tradition

Author: Doc Rowe (Folklore Society) email

Short Abstract

For 50 years Doc Rowe has been engaged in "serial collecting" with annual visits to innumerable seasonal events in the British Isles and Ireland.

Long Abstract

For 50 years Doc Rowe has been engaged in 'serial collecting' with annual visits to innumerable seasonal events in the British Isles and Ireland. He not only holds a passionate belief in the relevance and importance of tradition but also in the capacity of twentieth century technology to reveal and extend the knowledge and study of our traditional heritage.

Regular attendance and continuous fieldwork has led to a positive relationship between 'collector' and 'collected' and the documentation of otherwise unrecorded aspects of many of our cultural traditions. The preparation of costume, guises, garlands, designs, etc., shaped by local and individual aesthetics, are rarely recorded but film and photography go some way to redress this. Supplemented by taped interviews, bibliographic, photographic and historical source material provide social and historical background material.

Accepted as a 'part participant', Doc. Rowe's material is constantly updated. More private and intimate encounters are counterbalanced by more extravert, risky and dangerous activities such as running with blazing tar barrels or being crushed in mass scrums in community sport!

In this illustrated presentation, he reflects on the primary inspiration and motivation for collecting as well as the rapid development and contemporary genius of electronic technology, editing and digital dissemination - all that would have been so valuable some thirty years ago in using archival images to stimulate oral testimony.

'The Mystery of the Molly'

Author: Keith Locke email

Short Abstract

An explanation of a subject studied through a lens. As a photographer, I look to compose my images according to what I aim to portray to the viewer. In order to do this I can be very selective as to what is included in the frame, and sometimes more importantly what is excluded.

Long Abstract

To photographically document the majority of today's folklore is to document not so much a wholly historical event but a re-enactment of an historical event. It is because of the amount and the content of the archives which have survived and are currently available to us at this time that we are able to authenticate many, but by no means all of today's performances. Before you can create a photographic study, you need an understanding of what is to be portrayed. It is no good to shoot first and then ask questions; it is far better to obtain a background study prior to photographing your subjects in order to be able to bring out the qualities and the little nuances that help to create your subjects' identity and to maintain, as with the case of the 'Old Glory Molly Dancers and Musicians', an air of mystery and menace.

Problems with 'Custom Photography'

Author: Brian Shuel (Folklore Society) email

Short Abstract

As a professional photographer with an interest in 'Custom Photography', Brian Shuel discuss the effects of technological change on photography proceeding on to issues surrounding the photography of children participating in folk customs. He is the founder of the Collections Picture Library.

Long Abstract

As a professional photographer, between the years 1963 and 1993 Brian Shuel photographed about 200 customs and traditions of the British Isles. One of the major developments in photography during that time, aside from technological change, is photographing children. The sixth picture of his photographic career was taken on National Service in Singapore at which time children everywhere pestered photographers to take their picture. Since the 1990s and following paedophile scandals and subsequent legislation, this sort of reaction doesn't happen much now. Parents caution their children. All photographers are assumed to be paedophiles. Random street pictures of kids for whatever anthropological or folkloric purpose is definitely discouraged without proper permission. However, many customs involve children, indeed some are entirely about them. Brian Shuel's working rule has been that if anyone does object, desist at once as it is definitely not worth arguing about. Also, professionals who work on family portraits, or in schools, or in studios with child models now have to have a licence.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.