Evolving humanity, emerging worlds
Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013
Photography as mediation of anthropological knowledge
Location Chemistry G.53
Date and Start Time 07 Aug, 2013 at 09:00
This panel investigates how the multivalency and contructedness of photographic images can be used during fieldwork and as means to mediate anthropological knowledge. It invites explorative dialogues between content, form, context and effect, of photographic practices as well as representations.
This panel is concerned with photography's capacity to mediate anthropological knowledge. The conventional use of photography within the discipline has been informed by ideas of 'capturing evidence' and presenting an 'I was there'. The actual ambiguity regarding the interpretation and effect of photographic images - sometimes understood as subverting anthropological authority - has been handled by treating photographs as mere depictions of visual appearance presented as illustrations bounded by descriptive texts. Higher levels of abstraction that investigate unseen qualities of social phenomena are preferably mediated through texts. However, research focused on visual, multisensuous and material aspects of everyday life increasingly explores a broader potential of photography as practice and representation.
The panel aims to discuss the tensions between photographs as information and photographs as images that can evoke memories and elicit imagination. By bringing forth the constructedness of images, it also concerns conscious approaches to photographic practices during fieldwork. We invite explorative investigations of dialogues between photographic content, form, context and effect, as well as of how the ambiguous relationship between reality and photographs can be utilised in anthropological research. Rather than regarding the camera as a mere recording device, the panel engages with photography as a practice learnt in social situations with a capacity to mediate knowledge produced during fieldwork.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Visual Mediations: Interrogating Photographic Practices and Representations within Anthropology
In interaction with images, this paper makes inquires into fragmentary, non-documentary photographic practices and their capacity to mediate anthropological knowledge. Their relevance in conveying research is explored through ideas of direct experience as well as representation.
Anthropologists have mainly been concerned with the indexical aspects of photography, which has resulted in a documentary ideology based on the idea of the photograph as evidence. The expanding interest in sensory aspects of human experience, particularly the interrelation between various senses, have provided means for anthropology to leave the visualist paradigm behind and approach photography from a broader perspective. Non-documentary aspects of images, such as their capacity to interrogate and to lie, have recently been acknowledged and investigated within visual anthropology. Ethnographic studies of various photographic practices and collaborations with artists have further expanded the field. This paper makes use of the interrogatory capacity of photography to explore how experiential forms of anthropological knowledge can be mediated visually. It is concerned with the relevance of using images that question the documentary ideal and represent fragments rather than narratives.
During a presentation of such open-ended images, the paper will discuss to what extent they may: alter the mediation of sensory experience; represent the production of knowledge in fieldwork settings as an open continuity rather than a closed retrospective; and have a larger potentiality to mediate generalisations and abstractions. The efficacy of the images will in this presentation mainly be related to the framework of anthropological texts, the context in which most researchers make use of photographs.
Photographing the Interior: Representing Hidden Experience Through the use of Creative Methods and Collaborative Research
Photography offers potential within the field and through the use of accompanying software has the ability to expand ways of representing information. Through working collaboratively with participants images can be expanded into places of interiorities creating hypertextual self-scapes.
When looking at embodied experience, trapping the body into words on the page creates limits on the embodied knowledge that can be communicated. Photography challenges this limitation and with continuing technological advancements this has the potential to expand. Photographs are often storytellers and have the potential to create sensory narratives as they elicit imagination and the senses in creating discourse. In working with people where experiences are not easily photographed and where photographs create distance and separation from participants knowledge, photography needs to develop its forms of representation. Researchers, through the use of digital technology, have the potential to "expand and harness an evolving medium that can respond to some of photography's frailties, its lies and limitations" (Ritchin 2009:146). In this paper I examine the position of photography as a place of representing knowledge of participants' interiorities. Through a dialogue between standard photographic techniques and digitally altered photographs which are combined visually with participants' lived experience I look at how photographs, when put in a visual context, have the potential to communicate sensory narratives. I call these images 'hypertextual self-scapes'. Working collaboratively with participants enabled representations of lived embodied experience to take photographs beyond static representations accompanying text into a dialogue of lived sensory experience. These hypertextual self-scapes challenge photographic boundaries of representation through mediating the seen and unseen experiences for people with Chronic Illness. Where photographs of the lived every day could reinforce existing beliefs digital technology enables interiorities of experience to become visible.
Shared Identity of the camera person
Deciding to do some self reflexive methodology in order to analyse my position as researcher with camera, I did admit easily that photography can mediate in different settings. The status of the camera and the anthropologist can bring “ethnographer with camera” to do an auto-ethnography (cf. Billy Ehn).
Ethnographers are of course interested in using camera because of its role as memory capable to write and record events. Looking at that sense, one might think that camera has a power, but on the other hand protagonists to be filmed have also the power to refuse to be filmed by researcher.
Camera makes visible the work of a researcher, at the same it makes its role and its status visible. That's why I have been convinced that the use of camera and its equipments can resolve the issue of gender or non-initiated in certain cases. Because of the mediation of camera, the status of researcher is forgotten, priority is given to camera and its role. In a conservative Malian urban and rural areas, I have been filming several times among women without the presence of other men. Most of the time I felt it quite normal, but when capturing my images I wonder how did I manage to be in positions I would never be without camera.
During my presentation, I will focus more precisely on specific cases where I have been the only man among women: to analyse interactions between the different protagonists and at which level anthropological knowledge has been collectively produced, to underline the ways the protagonists and researcher are communicating with a self reflexive attitude.
Mediated Weddings: Photography, Self-making and Relationships in Dakar (Senegal)
In this paper I will present he complex dynamics, relationships and entanglements related to the production, representation, circulation and appropriation of wedding photographs in Dakar (Senegal) and relate it to my own practice of knowledge generation.
Photographs and especially wedding photography has been a revelatory practice in the course of my fieldwork in Dakar (Senegal). My own practice of taking images of others and learning to pose in front of the camera introduced me to a culturally specific form of visuality and helped me to gain an insight into the aesthetic, sensorial and experiential dimensions of femininity, selfhood and the making of relationships.
Weddings are one of the most important life-cycle events in a young woman's life and in Dakar photography became part of the conspicuous display of wealth and a space to perform and situate oneself in relation to others. In this paper I will present the complex dynamics, relationships and entanglements related to the production, representation, circulation and appropriation of wedding photographs in Dakar and relate it to my own practice of knowledge generation. Through thoroughly unfolding the various aspects related to wedding photography I try to bring out the manifold ways images contribute to our understanding of the social spaces and worlds we encounter and how they mediate anthropological knowledge on very different levels.
Portrait photography as mediating anthropological knowledge
Based on local studio conventions for portrait photography, mediations of visibility and invisibility, of exposure and containment in peoples’ photographic self-representations in the Tigrayan context of highland Ethiopia, have not only constituted and intake to local perceptions of personhood, but also to mediations of their own future.
In this paper I will discuss the anthropological knowledge the process of photographing portraits in the Tigrayan context of highland Ethiopia has evoked. Photographing in Tigray has meant being obliged to share authority with a people who have demanded to take control over their own self-representation. At the base of this discussion is therefore a repositioning of the photographing anthropologist from a detached observer to a social agent in a photographic encounter. Through the provision of a space for self-representation, the photographic situation has been utilised by people for producing an ideal self-image based on local studio conventions for portrait photography with roots in close to universal conventions in photographic studio portraiture. Involving mediations of visibility and invisibility, of exposure and containment these photographs have, together with peoples' critique of the photographs afterwards, constituted and intake to local perceptions of personhood. Based on the ambivalence in photographic realism that makes fiction possible, the photographic portraits have also constituted an intake to how people mediate their past and aspirations for the future, not only in their lives in the present, but also before the camera.
The Visual Heritage of the Nagas: An Experimental Study on the Visual Anthropology of Vanished Cultural Practices
The paper discusses how photographs were used in ethnographic research on the Naga of Northeast India. Due to vast cultural changes since their creation, they were used both as methodological aids in interviews but also as primary sources on cultures for which no textual sources exist today.
Research among the Naga tribes of Northeast India poses a difficult challenge and at the same time a great chance for anthropology. During more than half a century following Indian Independence in 1947, the areas inhabited by the various Naga groups had been closed off to outsiders and virtually no ethnographic research was conducted. During these years a fundamental process of transformation took place in Naga society: The Animistic religious practices of the pre-independence years were replaced by Christian beliefs, suppressing any 'leftovers' of the old religious practices and cultural identities. Today - apart from ethnographic literature published before the closure of the areas - the archives of various European institutions constitute the main 'primary' sources on the 'traditional' culture of some of the Naga groups. This anticipates a situation which will be common for the discipline of social and cultural anthropology in a few decades: The material culture and visual data available in museum collections and photographic archives cannot be contextualized anymore, because the local cultures from which they stem have disappeared or fundamentally changed. If no literature exists for a certain context, the object collections and photographic archives might be the only primary sources available for an anthropologist to ask his or her questions. In an experimental project, the author used the materials of two photographic archives created during the 1930's to write an 'Ethnography of Images' about the Nagas. The given paper discusses some of the insights gained and methods developed in the course of this undertaking.
Imagining Intimacies: Visualising sexual life-worlds, social change and cultural continuity in India
This paper explores the life-worlds of people of transgender and people who practice same-sex sexualities in India. Participatory photographic work explored the relationship between subjectivity, everyday experience, social transformation and cultural continuity in the context of modernizing and enduring socio-sexual values.
This paper explores and portrays social changes and cultural continuities in the lives and life-worlds of people of transgender and people who practice same-sex sexualities in contemporary India. Based on participatory photographic projects with same-sex attracted and transgender people in West Bengal, the aim of the research was to work with people in complicating prevailing narratives that associate economic liberalization, modernity and development with the emergence of new identities and social acceptance for so-called 'gender and sexual minority peoples.' Whilst India is certainly witnessing social changes of this kind the intimate aspirations of gender and sexual minority peoples are not necessarily bound-up with claiming new identities and explicit social recognition or rights. Indeed, for many research participants a sense of sexual subjectivity was not meaningfully expressed via the language of identity. Sexual and gender categories were often experienced as reductive. Moving beyond a purely linguistic register, therefore, the present research offered a creative space for the exploration and representation of socio-sexual life-worlds in other, visual terms. Based on community photography projects with transgender and same-sex attracted people the research not only sought to portray more subtle stories of changing sexual values in India but also to provide new visual routes into the exploration of subjective experience within ethnographic research. Photography did not perform an illustrative function but was taken forward from a phenomenological anthropological perspective, especially concerned with capturing socio-sexual life-worlds pre-linguistically and as intrinsic to everyday practices and perceptions.
Occupation: Negotiating Structures of the Berlin Brigade
With photography as method and product I conduct an architectural anthropology of physical structures used by former occupational military in Berlin. Sites in various stages of repurposing and individuals with connections to the structures are photographed to examine how relationships to political structures change over time.
A politically and culturally conscious approach to urban preservation must consider public memory and understand space as a cultural product. Using photography I create a visual text of these structures including portraiture of current and previously connected 'actors', to form an anthropological analysis of space and place for these specific political structures in Berlin. These structures are sites of collective memory and in their decay continue to be experienced in different ways across Berlin.
As the 20th anniversary of the end of Berlin's occupation nears (1994-2014), a comprehensive anthropology of these sites as dynamic cultural loci is culturally, historically, and fiscally relevant. Such analysis provides crucial information for the preservation and re-use of these structures and others across Europe.
Considering photographs as a textual form susceptible to bias and subjectivity, a conscious approach is vital. As data collection decisions affect textual products, maintaining detailed field journals to provide reflexive explanations regarding photographic decisions allow images to be seen and understood as negotiable ideas, open for further critique and analysis, rather than mere visual 'evidence'.
Methodologically, using photographs of the structure's current state as well as historical photographs in interview situations affect the quality of collected data. Connections between researcher and subjects occur over common knowledge and experience of the sites. Viewing current and historical photographs yields emotional responses that influence not only data gathered on how the subjects relate with the structures. The result is a visual anthropology and examination on how photographic representations influence memory to create anthropologic value.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.