The ancestral image in the present tense
Christopher Morton (University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on fieldwork with Aboriginal Australian communities, the paper explores indigenous responses to ancestral images not just as emergent from a matrix of contemporary socio-political contexts, but also the lived experience of the descendent, interacting with the ‘presence’ of the ancestor.
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on recent fieldwork with Aboriginal Australian communities, the paper explores the way in which indigenous responses to ancestral images are not just emergent from a matrix of contemporary socio-political contexts, but also the lived experience of the descendent, interacting with the 'presence' of the ancestor in the image. Drawing on a series of community consultations in South and Western Australia, and in particular with Noongar people in Perth, the paper examines the phenomenon of visual family history research being undertaken by many Aboriginal people today, especially those of the Stolen Generation, who have experienced disconnection from family, culture and language. For this significant section of the Aboriginal community, photographs held in Australian and overseas archives take on an additional and poignant significance. The reclamation of family connections to key Aboriginal ancestors through archival research is a highly politicized and sensitive area, in which the visual presence of well known local ancestors as copied images in private family trees takes on a powerful set of meanings associated with family connections to land, culture, kinship and political status. The paper argues that a reorientation of ethnographic thinking toward the concept of 'presence' in the photographic image allows us to rethink long-held presuppositions in Western photographic theory about the representational identity of the photographic image, toward an apprehension of its basis in past lived experience expressed in the present tense.
Reasserting presence: reclamation, recognition and photographic desire