Accepted paper:

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


Ekaterina Tolmacheva (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) RAS)
Aleksandra Kasatkina (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences)

Paper 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

Paper 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.

panel P13
Archiving Photographs and Photographing Archives