Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014

(P19)

Aboriginal Photographies

Location Sackler A
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 11:00

Convenor

Jane Lydon (University of Western Australia)  email
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Short Abstract

This session explores Indigenous perspectives on historical anthropological photography and the rich and vital meanings photos have today for Aboriginal descendants.

Long Abstract

This session explores Indigenous perspectives on historical anthropological photography and the rich and vital meanings photos have today for Aboriginal descendants. While many accounts of colonial photography have emphasised the medium's controlling and destructive effects upon its Indigenous subjects, there is also considerable evidence for its deployment by and for Aboriginal people themselves. As a medium of exchange, photographs of Aboriginal people have served vastly different purposes within Indigenous and Western knowledge systems, from embodiments of kin and ancestral powers, to visual data that actively created scientific knowledge. This session addresses the momentous intersection of new digital technologies and Aboriginal traditions surrounding visual imagery. It explores the global circulation of photographs of Aboriginal people that began in the 1840s, and their central role within the emergence of modern views regarding race and history. It investigates the current significance of colonial photography to Indigenous communities as an important Indigenous heritage resource.

Discussant: Joanna Sassoon

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Globalisation, photography and race: the Circulation and Return of Aboriginal Photographs in Europe

Author: Jane Lydon (University of Western Australia) email

Short Abstract

This paper reviews the outcomes of a large Australian Research Council-funded project, Globalisation, photography and race, a partnership between four European museums aiming to historicise photograph collections and return images to Aboriginal relatives and descendants.

Long Abstract

This paper reviews the outcomes of a large Australian Research Council funded project, Globalisation, photography and race: the Circulation and Return of Aboriginal Photographs in Europe, a partnership between four European museums aiming to historicise photograph collections and return images to Aboriginal relatives and descendants. Archival photographs of Australian Aboriginal people were amassed during the colonial period for a range of purposes, yet rarely to further an Indigenous agenda. Today however such images have been re-contextualised, used to reconstruct family history, document culture and express connections to place. They have become a significant heritage resource for relatives and descendants. As a medium of exchange, photographs of Aboriginal people have served vastly different purposes within Indigenous and Western knowledge systems, from embodiments of kin and ancestral powers, to visual data that actively created scientific knowledge. In the digital age, it has become an urgent matter to understand and balance these traditions, and over
 the last decade, numerous innovative projects have employed digital means
 of making this resource accessible to Aboriginal communities: what are the benefits and challenges of this work to date?

Documenting the 'Exotic' and 'Savage' in 1860s Brisbane, Queensland

Author: Michael Aird (Queensland Museum) email

Short Abstract

This presentation will give a glimpse of Brisbane Aborigines during the 1860s as documented by early photographers, and how Aborigines are now researching historical photos and the important role these images play in enabling families to assert their connection to community and country.

Long Abstract

When looking at photographs of Aborigines taken over 100 years ago the viewer often considers the huge changes to Aboriginal society and the landscape, especially when looking at photographs that were taken in areas that are now highly urbanized cities such as Brisbane in south-east Queensland, Australia.

The commercial precinct of Brisbane in the mid-1800s would have proved quite an attraction to Aborigines, as a place where European commodities could be obtained. By the 1860s several photographers had formed relationships with local Aboriginal people and had been inviting them into their studios and were photographing them. These early photographers obviously would have valued Aborigines as something 'exotic' and 'savage' to be photographed, so in turn they could profit from selling their images.

I have no doubt that Aborigines were well aware that the photographers intended to profit from them and at times they may have negotiated some form of payment prior to posing. Although historical research can never fully describe the complex relationships between the early photographers and the many of the Aboriginal people in their photos.

My presentation will give a glimpse of the Brisbane Aboriginal community during the 1860s as documented by photographers, and I will also discuss how there is an ever increasing involvement of Aboriginal people in documenting and portraying our own histories and how we are gaining a much more accurate understanding of the people featured in these old photographs and their connections to country and future generations of descendants.

The Alex van der Leeden photographs in the Rose River area, Arnhem Land

Author: Fanny Wonu Veys (Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen) email

Short Abstract

Focusing on the photographs made by van der Leeden in the 1960s in Arnhem Land, this paper will explore (1) his photographs as a research tool, (2) the challenges connected to providing access to a deteriorating material and (3) the Indigenous meanings attached to these fifty-year old photographs.

Long Abstract

During exactly one year, from 29 January 1964 until 29 January 1965, Alex van der Leeden conducted fieldwork among the Nunggubuyu people in the Rose River area of Arnhem Land, where he assembled a collection comprising photographs, as well as objects and sound recordings, now held at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, the Netherlands. This paper focuses on the photographs made by Alex van der Leeden. Firstly I will explore to what extent van der Leeden considered photographs as a research and documentation tool, complementing his structuralist investigations into the societal structure of the Nunggubuyu. I will then look at the limitations and possibilities for increasing accessibility of the deteriorating negatives by storing and digitising them appropriately. Finally, I will examine how access by indigenous members of the public shapes the significance these fifty-year old images have for the descendants of the people represented in the photographs. Are these images experienced as a record of genealogy, local history and heritage or do they go beyond these aspects actually making things happen today and for future generations?

Mobilising Visual Histories - Torres Strait Islander Photographs from Alfred Haddon's Expeditions

Author: Anita Herle (University of Cambridge) email

Short Abstract

Drawing on the responses of Islanders to the photographs taken by Alfred Haddon during his two expeditions to the Torres Strait in 1888 and 1898, this presentation highlights indigenous agency in the documentation and dissemination of key aspects of Ailan Kastom.

Long Abstract

During two expeditions to the Torres Strait (1888, 1898) the Cambridge zoologist-anthropologist A.C. Haddon and his colleagues took several hundred photographs as part of an extensive project to document Torres Strait Islander history and custom. The sheer volume of information that was recorded and the contribution of individual named Islanders has ensured that the material has remained a key resource for Torres Strait Islander studies. This presentation highlights indigenous agency in the documentation and dissemination of important aspects of Ailan Kastom and explores different ways that Islanders selectively mobilise visual histories in order to address contemporary concerns.

Thick Photography

Author: Jennifer Deger (James Cook University) email

Short Abstract

Yolngu phone and tablet-based photography literally pulses with layered meaning and affect. Akin to bark painting—yet also deliberately different—these photos affirm the spectral density of Yolngu worlds. Following suit, I experiment between story, memory and photo-image.

Long Abstract

Across remote Aboriginal Australia, phone and tablet photographic technologies are giving rise to vibrant new forms of visual culture. Green-screen software, montage and .gif effects enable the creation of layered images that literally pulse with meaning and affect. Akin to bark painting—yet deliberately different—such images reveal the spectral depth of Yolngu worlds.

At a time when families across Arnhem Land face relentless loss and social stress, the making, sharing and viewing of elaborated family photographs reaffirm, reconstitute, and 'thicken' a world of vitality, resonance and ancestral significance. Through deliberately posed and often highly post-produced photography Yolngu can creatively participate in a profoundly synaesthetic and sentient world, a world enlivened by uncanny encounter, a world that requires the ongoing affirmation and renewal of relationships through imagistic practice. This is a world of sensuous force and inside meanings, a world far exceeds the registers of what eye can see, the camera can capture and, indeed, what this anthropologist will ever know.

As photography gives new form (and new life) to existing cultural practices by enabling the assembling and activation of images (including song poetry and 'non-traditional' imagery incorporated from elsewhere), I hope that these new photographic practices will enable a new ethnographic form to my project of communicating just how centrally visual images and their spectral counterparts texture, shape and shadow life in Arnhem Land. Working the spaces between image, memory and narrative, this presentation aims to generate "thick description" of a different order to conventionally Geertzian-inspired ethnographies.

Outside the Frame: Photographs as a Currency of Social Life

Author: Sabra Thorner (Florida State University) email

Short Abstract

Drawing from fieldwork with Ara Irititja, an Indigenous digital archiving project in central Australia, this paper considers how the properties of digital images change our ideas about photography. I also suggest the metaphor of photographs as a currency: objects circulated as media of exchange.

Long Abstract

The proliferation of images online raises interesting questions about what photographs are, why they are particularly powerful kinds of things, and how digital media are reconfiguring not only what we know, but also how we know. Anthropologists are increasingly interested in what Christopher Pinney and Nicolas Peterson (2003) call "photography's other histories," ethnographically-informed accounts of locally-appropriated photographies that unsettle linear histories of photography privileging the West. There's also emergent engagement with the terminology and assumptions of "the digital age," and "the digital divide," as scholars urge close attention to how the digital works in specific cultural contexts.

In this paper, I build on these literatures and draw from fieldwork with an Indigenous digital archive serving remote communities in central Australia to think through photographs as a unique kind of currency of social life: simultaneously objects with particular materialities and media of exchange. My argument is twofold. First, I assert that the infrastructures through which photographs are viewed (in this case, as images on screen, records in a database), and the pathways through which they circulate (in this case, accessed in small social groups, often segregated by gender, and shared via an online intranet, but not available on the worldwide web) are crucial components in contemporary cultural production. Secondly, I suggest that this project offers a fresh perspective on markets in cultural heritage and economies of knowledge, urging reconsideration of our presumptions of both "public" and "private," and the levels of translation and limits of digitization in our 21st century lives.

Getting what you need; Anangu and photography at Ernabella

Author: Diana Young (University of Queensland) email

Short Abstract

A paper about photographic images and resistance, reciprocity and creativity by Anangu – Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people living in the far north east of South Australia

Long Abstract

Evaluating photographs of themselves, Anangu - Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people living in the far north east of South Australia - follow strict, socially decided rules. There are thousands of photographs now available to them in the Ara Irititja Archival Project, a resource of digitalized images and later, born digital photographs. These images date from the early 1940s to the present. Although early purveyors of their own video making, as EVTV, being the person behind a stills camera was a rare event until the last decade.

The material for this paper is drawn from archival research with Anangu searching for suitable photographs of themselves to publish in for a book. It addresses some discoveries; firstly that the majority of archived photographs contain sets of similar visual clichés with regard to the position and framing of Aboriginal bodies that endure over decades. Secondly, that the relationship between the photographer and the person photographed is of importance in the affective quality of the image ( as Michaels pointed out years ago) and more surprisingly, to mitigate against the 'prosthetic eye' of the camera Anangu artists reciprocated by materialising their own 'panoptic' imagery.

Here, using W. J. T. Mitchell's ideas about what images might want, I review historical material, both photographic and textual, with my own fieldwork to argue that some Anangu created a quiet revolution by thinking about how to control the power of photographic images and photographers.

'Photographic Memories': Writing a Visual History of the Ho-Chunk Nation, 1879-1942

Author: Amy Lonetree (University of California, Santa Cruz) email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the intersections of photographic images, family history, colonialism, and Ho-Chunk survivance through an examination of historic images of Ho-Chunk tribal members taken by Charles Van Schaick between 1879-1942.

Long Abstract

This presentation will explore the importance of the Charles Van Schaick photographs and the representation of Ho-Chunk families in this unique and rich collection of 1,000 images of Ho-Chunk tribal citizens currently housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The photographs taken by Van Schaick are an invaluable visual legacy for Ho-Chunk people, and I will place these photographs in historical and cultural context. Beginning with the recognition of the sentiment expressed by Native American photographer, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, who argues that, "one cannot understand the images until you understand the history," my lecture will provide an overview of Ho-Chunk history with particular attention given to the mid 19th century forced removal and assimilation era policies that were in place when a majority of the images were taken. Van Schaick's work differs greatly from other photographers of this period, most notably Edward Curtis, who sought to capture images of a "vanishing race" for ethnographic and commercial purposes. Van Schaick's images are important as Ho-Chunk families themselves commissioned photographs for their own personal use. Today these 1,000 photographs are powerful representations of family history and cultural survival during a time period that is poorly represented in the scholarly record. The stories the images convey of the importance of kinship, place, memory, ongoing colonialism, and survivance are the central themes of the Ho-Chunk experience in the late 19th/early 20th century, and my presentation will address these intersecting themes through an analysis of a diverse range of images within the collection.

Inuit Memory and Community through Photographs

Author: Carol Payne (Carleton University) email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the collaborative Inuit photo-based research program “Views from the North.” For this project, Inuit youths and elders are reusing governmental and anthropological photographs to build Inuit cultural awareness through intergenerational bonds and with use of the web.

Long Abstract

This proposed paper will discuss "Views from the North," a collaborative photo-based research program, developed by the Inuit post-secondary school Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS), Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada). For the project, NS students are hired as researchers to interview elders in their home communities in the territory of Nunavut about archival photographs, made by the Canadian government from the 1940s-1960s. Interviews and archival photographs as well as students' own photographs and follow up interviews with students are now available on a web-based cybercartographic atlas (http://viewsfromthenorth.ca/index.html), reflecting celebrated Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk's contention that the web is "the most important media tool of the twenty-first century to protect Inuit language and culture."

This project has multiple, transcultural aims: Within Inuit communities, it seeks to foster intergenerational bonds by using archival photographs to encourage discussions about Inuit culture and to facilitate on-going discussions through the website. Within non-Inuit or southern communities, this project seeks to enter Inuit narratives onto the southern, historic record while reversing the governmental and anthropological gaze.

If Inuit students and elders working in the project have reframed archival images with new meanings, they have also left an impression on how research is being conducted among us in the south/non-Inuit community. Collaborative, intergenerational, intercultural and interdisciplinary, this project is located at the intersections of Inuit culture, memory studies, Nunavummiut political strategies, visual anthropology, and the history of photography.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.