Accepted paper:

Presence in photographic representation through absence


Thera Mjaaland (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

The discussion in this paper, which addresses the issue of presence in photographic representation through absence, argue for a redefinition of the basis for visual knowledge production in anthropology that incorporates, not only what is seen in the image, but also what can be imagined.

Paper long abstract:

The challenge to anthropological authority posed by the inherent ambiguity of photographic images rests on the fact that what can be seen continues to form the underlying, if implicit, positivist premise for visual knowledge production in anthropology. As a medium of representation that, according to Mary Warner Marien, simultaneously confirms and denies truth while emphasising the appearance of accuracy, art photography has, instead of conceiving this as a problem, thrived on this ambiguity. Hence, if ambiguity is approached as the most potent aspect of photographic representation also within anthropology, the way forward suggested here is to incorporate, not only what is observably present in the photograph, but also the effect on interpretation, and hence on knowledge production, of what is not immediately observable in the image. The photographic art project Houses/Homes, which forms the basis for my discussion in this paper, expands on the issue of presence in photographic representation through absence. I will argue that a redefined use of photographic representations in anthropological knowledge production must include the metonymic beyondness implied in Roland Barthes punctum, which would extend what the photographic image as index points to, from what can be seen, to what can be imagined.

panel P21
Reasserting presence: reclamation, recognition and photographic desire