Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


Archiving Photographs and Photographing Archives

Location Studio
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 09:00


Dawn Chatty (University of Oxford)  email
Jaanika Vider (University of Oxford)  email
 Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel encompass subject matter which details the experiences of turning photographs and other visual images into digital and hard copy archives and explores the ethics, impact and audiences of such archives.

Long Abstract

This panel would invite papers which encompass subject matter which details the experiences of turning photographs and other visual images into digital and hard copy archives. It would also consider how digital archives can be used for teaching and as a starting point for research. Papers might also reflect on how we can better collect and organize material that might eventually become an archive. That would mean thinking about photographs as archives before fieldwork commences. Other papers might consider contemporary issues regarding how to work with digital images; how to digitise film. Papers might also consider issues of where to store visual images; how to store them; for whom are these images were taken; and how their purpose might change over time; as well as ethical concerns regarding the use of images.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Engaging With the Past - Archiving Fieldwork Photos After 30 Years

Author: Patti Langton (Pitt Rivers Museum) email

Short Abstract

This paper is an account of the personal experience of archiving my digitized photographs within a museum context thirty years after fieldwork and will consider the intellectual and emotional issues, which arose from that experience.

Long Abstract

This paper follows the progress of an archive, from my being approached by the Pitt Rivers Museum to donate my photographs of Moru, Dinka and Larim (Boya) people from fieldwork in the Southern Sudan in 1979-1980, through digitisation and curating, to their subsequent appearance online as part of the Museum's research database. This process after thirty years was suffused with memory, when re-connecting with the photographs.

The paper will reflect on the impact of working as a visiting researcher at the Pitt Rivers. Many fieldworkers donate their photographic archives to museums, but it is unusual to have the opportunity to annotate them in situ. I was able to see the collection in relation to others, as part of a long Sudanese archive including photographs from the anthropological pioneers Evans-Pritchard and Godfrey Lienhardt.

This paper will also follow the archive to when contact was renewed, after 30 years of civil war in Sudan, with Peter Longole, my former Larim colleague and researcher. I was able to return some of the photographs and ethnography to him, and learned how he used them in the context of today's Larim people.

In conclusion I reflect on my fieldwork archive, on the influence of working in a museum environment; how changing attitudes affect my perceptions; how difficulties I faced then can be viewed now; how revisiting an archive after many years impacted on my self and how the archive impacts in the present day on the new realities of the Larim people.

Creating a Digital Visual Resource

Authors: Dawn Chatty (University of Oxford) email
Jaanika Vider (University of Oxford) email

Short Abstract

This paper documents the process of creating a digital archive of photographic images taken between 1978 and 2013 of a remote and marginalised social group on the edge of the Empty Quarter.

Long Abstract

It paper is in two parts. The first explores the practical issues in creating the digital archive, the selection of images, the creating of meta data, and key words , at the process of digitising as well as the technical issues of colour correction and uploading. explores the conceptual, technical and fiscal impasses in this process. It then explores some of the ethical issues regarding the creation of such an open resource and the mechanisms considered in order keep the images freely available for all on a not-for profit basis. Although originally conceived as an advocacy tool, the paper will examine the unintended impact which the digital website has had on the community itself.

Working through the archival photographs: recontextualizing the past, learning lessons for the future

Authors: Ekaterina Tolmacheva (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) RAS) email
Aleksandra Kasatkina (Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration) email

Short Abstract

The joint presentation introduces the archive of St Petersburg Kunstkamera and explores the two ways to use archival photographs: as a communication medium in the field and as a starting point to question the difference between the professional gazes of a photographer and an anthropologist

Long Abstract

Photographs of other cultures' curiosities started coming to the Saint Petersburg MAE from all over the world in the mid XIX century. Nowadays the curators face the same problems as any old European anthropological archive does: piles of pictures made for various reasons and audiences, in the time of a different attitude to the relations between science and photography, poorly described, badly understudied and unused. Exploring their histories and contents, identifying attitudes and methods of photographers and their effects are on the current agenda, so that the previous experience could be considered in future practice of research and archiving. In our joint presentation we would like to tell about our projects each representing a possible way of dealing with old photographs.

Aleksandra Kasatkina takes the collection of pictures made in the British North Borneo in 1911 back to the field and explores their potential as fieldwork tools and the effects of multiple recontextualizations of the photos. Once taken from those deprived of voice in the colonial era, these pictures are now a means to give them their voice back. In the discussions with the locals both individual interpretations of local past and attitudes to later modernization are articulated.

The field project conducted by Ekaterina Tolmacheva and her team of anthropologists and photographers, explores the difference between the two professional gazes at the contemporary Russian village. Our archive keeps lots of visual documents claiming to contain ethnographical information made by photographers who generally ignored the difference. Speculation on the effects of this ignorance is a part of the project.

Initial considerations on archiving, presenting and representing images of a village in India

Author: Tina Otten (Ruhr Universität Bochum) email

Short Abstract

Considers the social, ethical, aesthetic, and technical aspects of archiving, gifting and exhibiting F.G. Bailey’s photographs from the 1950s in light of recent fieldwork in the same locations.

Long Abstract

The paper discusses the procedure/method of archiving, presenting and representing the fieldwork photographs of F.G. Bailey in relation to my own recent field research in the same locations. Bailey undertook fieldwork in Bisipada in Odisha, Eastern India, in the 1950s. Photography was one of his key methodologies. Restudying his work and fieldsites has led me to consider the following:

a.) Social aspects of archiving; discussions about the archive with people of the village; the possibilities of creating a local archive; the role of archives as tools for social, cultural, and personal memory.

b.) Ethical aspects of archiving: for whom do we archive? Who possesses rights over images and technologies?

c.) Technical aspects refer to the development and refinement of my own archive techniques with a view to the archive having an afterlife.

d.) Finally, the aesthetic aspect deals with preparing and presenting images for those appearing in them, both for their private consumption and for publication and exhibition.

Contentious Realities: The Politics of Creating Photographic Archives amongst the ʿArab Badū al-Naqab Society of Southern Israel

Author: Emilie Le Febvre (University of Oxford) email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the politics of repatriating photographs and establishing a community archive amongst ʿArab Badū al-Naqab of southern Israel.

Long Abstract

This paper will discuss the politics of repatriating photographs and establishing a community-based visual archive amongst ʿArab Badū al-Naqab of southern Israel. This initiative was part of my doctoral research in the Naqab wherein I documented how members use visual materials in their private lives and public exchanges with outsiders. An aspect of my fieldwork surveyed the photographs privileged in their society and traced the biographies of these materials from the Naqab to external archives. I conducted multi-sited research in the United Kingdom, United States, Jerusalem, Biʾr al-Sabʿ, Rāhaṭ, and various villages in the Naqab, and given access to the personal collections of several anthropologists. During my fieldwork, I worked closely with a local photographer Kāʾid Abū Latīf to create a community digital archive and a small photo exhibit in Rāhaṭ's Community Centre Library. The goal was to compile, archive, and improve local access to hundreds of historical and contemporary photographs and films collected during my research. While the project was initiated as a collaborative repatriation project, it failed to come together and alternatively provided insight about owning photographs as objects of honour, the problems of exhibiting collective narratives, the forbidden-ness of displaying films of deceased members, politics of promoting local heritage as a Palestinian minority in Israel, and finally, the practical realities of locating funds for these types of initiatives.

In search of a multi-perspective: turning the photographic legacy of an amateur photographer into a university's digital collection

Authors: Alma Durán-Merk (University of Augsburg, Germany) email
Susanne Krawietz (Augsburg University) email
Leonie Herrmann (Augsburg University) email

Short Abstract

This contribution elucidates the challenges and opportunities presented by the collection of pictures of amateur photographer Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Schirp¬, while reflecting on how to welcome a diversity of perspectives by the contextualization and the interpretation of these photographs.

Long Abstract

In 2013 the digital versions of about 300 pictures, taken by amateur photographer Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Schirp Laabs (Aachen, 1886 - Mexico City, 1948) mostly in Yucatán, were donated to the Department of European Anthropology of the University of Augsburg to create a digital collection for non-profit usage by the scholarly and academic community worldwide.

The pictures document various social, cultural and political events that this immigrant observed, but also consciously constructed, during his years as an immigrant in the Mayab. Schirp Laabs migrated into México in 1905, where he worked for the Siemens & Halske electric plant in Mérida, Yucatán. He documented not only work activities at the electric plant, but also community reunions, daily and special rituals, day trips, family events, important people of that time, political demonstrations as well as the urbanization process of Yucatán's capital.

This contribution elucidates the challenges and opportunities that this material per se poses for the group working on this collection, composed by students, lecturers and researchers. It also reflects on the possibilities for processing the images, and on how to welcome a diversity of perspectives by the contextualization and the interpretation of these photographs.

Tagging Archives, Archiving Tags

Author: Maureen Matthews (The Manitoba Museum) email

Short Abstract

Tagging the database has transformed a recently digitized collection of 900 photographs from passive to active archive as community members and linguists provide Anishinaabe identities for the people in the pictures, reclaiming their ancestors and enriching the library’s archive at the same time.

Long Abstract

In the 1930s, the American anthropologist A. Irving Hallowell, took a good camera with him up the Berens River in Northern Manitoba. His 10 years of Berens River fieldwork eventually made both Hallowell and the Ojibwe people famous. His photographic images, more than 900 of them, now reside in one of the most distinguished archives in North America, the American Philosophical Society (APS) Library in Philadelphia. Hallowell sent copies of some of the photos to the community. We know because they were still there in the 1990s; prized possessions of a few families. But for 70 years, most of the photos languished, visited by few, the odd one used to illustrate an article or thesis. In the last five years, they have come to life again and have regained their place in the history of the people of the Berens River. The images are newly digitized and the APS Library has made it possible to tag the database, adding new searchable categories to their website, so that community members can find images of their Anishinaabe relatives using their Anishinaabe names. A collaboration of community members, linguists and the library, this project illustrates the generative capacity of digital images to create new social relationships. The Facebook help centre says that "A tag is a special kind of link. When you tag someone, you create a link to their Timeline." This paper looks at the "special links" formed when photographs and libraries revitalize community ideas about time and history.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.