Presence, Significance and Insistence: photographic archives redeployed
Devorah Romanek (Maxwell Museum of Anthropology)
Paper short abstract:
This paper investigates contemporary redeployment of historic ethnographic images in Native America, by Native Americans. Assignments of “significance,” the weight of “presence” and the ongoing “insistence” of photographic images are given primacy over “meaning”, “epistemology” and “provenance.”
Paper long abstract:
This paper investigates contemporary redeployment of historic ethnographic images in Native America, by Native Americans in New Mexico. Late 19th and early 20th century ethnographic photographs that are typically found in publications and museum collections and archives, have been, and are, in great circulation in contemporary communities in New Mexico. In the American Southwest, the employment of such photographs serves as the fulcrum for the seemingly unending dynamic in which Indigenous identified people experience both the impossibility of not being Native American and the simultaneous impossibility of being Native American, a very tangible double bind, but also related to the theoretical 'real' and the impossibility of being 'real' per Lacanian psychoanalysis. In light of this double bind, and in acknowledging the limitations of twentieth century photographic theories, assignments of "significance," the weight of "presence" (Ruina 2006), and the ongoing "insistence" of photographic images are given primacy over "meaning", "epistemology" and "provenance." This paper observes the way in which the role of memory and earlier notions of essentialism are strategically and aesthetically employed through the medium of the photographic image by contemporary Indigenous peoples. The historical ethnographic images that serve as the center of this research are significant, solicitous of historical presence and insistent in specific ways only in geographic context as constellated with identity, which raises interesting questions concerning localized or place-specific photographic usage, as opposed to the decontextualized representational implications of the published or institutionally housed photograph.
Reasserting presence: reclamation, recognition and photographic desire