Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


Critical Heritage and Photography

Location Sackler A
Date and Start Time 30 May, 2014 at 09:30


Colin Sterling (UCL)  email
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Short Abstract

This panel examines the interrelationship of heritage and photography. Drawing on concepts from anthropology, archaeology, museology and memory studies, critical heritage offers a potent lens through which to question the role of photography in shaping the affective power of the past in the present

Long Abstract

This panel will re-examine the complex interrelationship of heritage and photography from a variety of socio-cultural, historical, and theoretical perspectives. Since its inception, photography has been part of what we would now define as 'heritage practice,' whether deployed to survey historic sites, document cultural practices, or as an aide memoire for travellers and tourists. To some extent, the concurrent emergence of heritage and photography within the modern period may even speak of an elective affinity between the two. More recently, a focus on heritage as process has shifted attention away from the monumental and towards the role of heritage in everyday settings. From this perspective we may interrogate the photo-album as crucial to personal heritage, or the importance of social media and online sharing as they open up new opportunities for the construction of heritage by re-contextualising old photographs (e.g. HistoryPin). Despite these noteworthy intersections, photography remains a largely under-theorised topic within critical heritage studies. This panel will seek to address this shortcoming. A key point of departure here will be recent calls for the interdisciplinary field of heritage to look beyond issues of discourse and the politics of representation and consider instead the 'affective qualities' of the past in the present (Harrison 2013). To this end, papers will focus less on aesthetics to examine issues more familiar to anthropology - including bodily experience, memory and processes of meaning-making. To borrow from Edwards (2012), our interest lies not in isolated images, but in the 'photography complex' of critical heritage

Discussant: Dr Beverley Butler

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Representing Representations in Mining: Cultural Heritage Assessment and Photography

Author: Michele Fulcher (Anthropologica Pty Ltd) email

Short Abstract

Heritage assessment that considers insights and traditional practices of those previously marginalised is a complex undertaking in mining contexts. Photography is a crucial tool in unravelling complexity. This paper discusses critical heritage and shaping contemporary practice using photography.

Long Abstract

The assessment of cultural heritage in mining contexts is a key component of what is loosely termed the 'Social License to Operate'. In this context, heritage assessment proves a complex undertaking as it intersects professional cultures which often are not predisposed to considerations of the 'seen and unseen'. If assessment goes beyond conventional archaeological method and embraces insights and traditions of those who have been marginalised in the past, complexity is increased. This paper posits that photography is a crucial tool in unravelling complexity in practice, but only if it is theorised as a tool for representation of complex meaning. Photography in this mode of practice is more than the "capture of an essence". It must be characterised, not as a function of representation, but as part of the process of representation of heritage itself and what this means for the relevant culture. With this in mind, the paper then discusses critical heritage and shaping contemporary practice using photography.

Photography and multi-Locale Ethnographic Inquiry into Sites of Critical Heritage: Reflections from a Local History Project in Turkey and Armenia

Author: Salim Aykut Ozturk (University College London (UCL)) email

Short Abstract

This paper and photography presentation aims at discussing the role of different social sensibilities and collective memories in the production and circulation of photo-narratives by a group of young amateur photographers from Turkey and Armenia.

Long Abstract

Recently, some 20 young people from Turkey and Armenia have participated in a local history project about the city of Mush, in contemporary Eastern Turkey. The participants spent 15 days in the city and its surroundings, took photos, and conducted interviews with the locals. Later, they visited Armenia where they met people of Mush origin who survived the Genocide and settled there permanently. At the end of the project, the group produced oral history texts, photo-essays, a stage performance and a book.

This presentation provides insight about how Turkish and Armenian participants discussed issues of belonging (among themselves and with the locals) in relation to the landscape of Eastern Turkey, and how these discussions were reflected on their photography. While the city and its surroundings are considered to be one of the most important historical centres of Armenian cultural production and religion, for most Turks (and the local Kurds) the city does not connote any cultural and historical significance at all. This is why for both the participants and the locals what is imagined as heritage has had varying connotations. Consequently, one of the major aims of the presentation will be to elaborate on the processes in which the dialectical relationships between the photographer/researcher and the informant reflect on the production of the photographic image in both emotionally and politically challenging encounters.

During the presentation photos taken by the participants of the project will also be demonstrated.

Occupation: Structures of the Berlin Brigade

Author: Mike Terry (Freie Universität Berlin) email

Short Abstract

This project is a visual anthropology of the physical structures used by former occupational military in Berlin. Their re-use and the individuals connected to them are organized and represented photographically to examine the relationship between individuals and negotiable heritage sites.

Long Abstract

A politically and culturally conscious approach to urban preservation must consider public memory and understand space as a cultural product. The structures built and or used by the US occupational forces in former West Berlin share a unique historical context and geographic proximity, lending themselves to place-making research. As the 20th anniversary of the occupational withdrawal is commemorated in 2014, a comprehensive and visual anthropology of these sites as dynamic cultural loci is culturally, historically, and fiscally relevant.

While these sites exist along the continuum of speculation to construction, inhabitation, decay, and demolition, their status as cultural heritage is anything but agreed upon. This project unpacks these sites by visually gathering the historic and contemporary users (individuals) and uses (activities), to address the fundamental question of how individuals relate to heritage sites. Contextualizing the experiences, ideals and power within this sequence across evolving eras, circumstance and purpose expand our perception of what these buildings have meant and continue to mean.

Photography's algebraic potential to semantically decode and reduce the dissimilar into like terms, is a strategically selected filter for representing the diversity of relations between individuals and the sites. Combining researcher-produced photographs with found photographs from site users as well as maps and other representations of space reveal a latent network of relation with implications for like structures across Europe. The visual re-contextualization of historic and contemporary place-making processes at these sites evoke Nora's description of Milieu de Memoire; the communal memorial, in flux, existing in present memory and perception.

Photography and the assembly of academic studies of the past

Author: Sara Perry (University of York) email

Short Abstract

Drawing upon examples of key photographers and photographic distributors from the history of heritage and archaeology, this paper traces the role of the photographic image/process in creating heritage scholarship and pushing the boundaries on everything from publication practices to research paradigms.

Long Abstract

Photographic practice is inextricably linked to the earliest construction and ongoing sustenance of heritage studies in the university sector. Its development and application are implicated not only in ways of seeing and aestheticising the past, but in marketing and promotion, student recruitment, staff retention, intellectual creativity, departmental growth and overall disciplinary (re)production. Drawing upon examples of key photographers from the history of heritage and archaeology, including a long legacy of practitioners from London's Institute of Archaeology (beginning with the pioneering Maurice 'Cookie' Cookson), this paper traces the role of the photographic image/process in creating heritage scholarship. Alongside reference to the genealogy of mass producers and circulators of photographs (e.g., National Geographic to Pinterest), I attend to the place of these visual media in pushing the boundaries on everything from publication practices to research paradigms. Ultimately, I aim here to provide an overview of photography's entanglement in many of our most basic disciplinary structures, and at once, to interrogate the impact that its institutionalisation had - and continues to have - on contemporary knowledge-making in academic circles and beyond.

Look at Me More: Cypriot Studio Photographic Portraits

Author: Despina Pasia (Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture / University of Leicester) email

Short Abstract

The paper introduces the studio photographic portrait as a genre and object that forms an underestimated aspect of Cypriot visual culture and brings to the forefront the affective aspect of its use in the aftermath of colonialism and modernity.

Long Abstract

This paper examines Cypriot studio photographic portraits as an unappreciated and understudied aspect of visual culture on the island. Contrary to their current reception within the narrow and exclusive framework of cultural heritage found in official and popular discourse, whereby nationalist aesthetics and politics set the agenda, I seek to articulate an alternative approach to their study within the field of critical heritage. I also argue that when these objects are put to work within the social they accomplish complicated tasks related to affect, not only to posterity. In doing so, I employ Mitchell's methodological tool of the 'desire of images' (2005), aiming to draw attention to other analytical directions concerning this photographic genre, namely consumability, tactility and affect.

Using ethnographical and visual sources the paper explores the visual surface along with the social life of Cypriot studio photographic portraits. It identifies recurring aspects of their social trajectories which provide insights to the modes through which the interlocutors' bodily experience and meaning-making processes transverse the boundaries of representation into the realm of managing emotional tensions. These tensions emerge in the aftermath of colonialism and the photographic practice it ensued, as well as the encounter and interaction of Cyprus with modernity between the 1940s and the 1980s and the transition to statehood. I argue that studio shootings and the resulting photographic portraits constitute highly-structured cultural attempts to cope with these unravelling emotional upheavals on the social and personal level.

The personal versus the institutional voice in the open photographic archive

Author: Karin Wagner (Chalmers university of technology) email

Short Abstract

In open, web-based photographic archives, private persons’ written comments to their photographs are often subjective and do not comply with the objective style of metadata produced by institutional staff. This paper will examine how the different types of text influence the meaning of photographs.

Long Abstract

Web-based photographic archives, such as Historypin, that address both cultural heritage institutions and the general public, result in heterogeneous collections of images with regard to subject, technique, and quality. The metadata supplied by private persons can differ quite substantially from the metadata normally produced by institutional staff. Private persons' written comments to their photographs tend to be far more subjective than the neutral, objective descriptions produced by museum staff. Sometimes there are marks on the photographs themselves that also contribute to making them personal documents. For instance, in an air photograph of Tahunaui beach in New Zealand, the pinner has marked an area with a circle and an arrow and written the comment: "We used to party at night at the circled area in 1965. Oh Carol, where are you now." The text evokes past events that occurred in that particular place, that the photograph in itself or a neutral description of what can be seen in the picture would be incapable of bringing forth. The hand drawn circle also sets the photograph apart from being an official document. Taking examples from Historypin, this paper will deal with the personal voice in contrast to the institutional voice in an open photographic archive. Roland Barthes' term anchorage will be used to examine how the accompanying text influences the meaning of the photographs.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.