Accepted paper:

Entangled images: examining patterns of distribution of a medical photographic archive


Chimwemwe Phiri (Durham University )

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that the material circumstances of a medical photographic archive is linked to its scientific and anthropological meanings, and it reflects on ways in which the dissemination of information and networks of exchange were enhanced by the multiple formats photographs were presented.

Paper long abstract:

This paper considers a medical photographic archive by examining its shifting material circumstances, entangled meanings and the tensions that arise following an encounter with the collection by an indigenous artist. The collection relates to Dr Hugh Stannus (1877-1957), who was a colonial medical officer in Malawi and is currently housed at the Weston Library at the University of Oxford. The images were taken between 1905 and 1910 and are related to discourses around colonialism, power and the importation of biomedicine during the early 20th century. The paper will argue that photographs moved in a predetermined path of circulation among scientific and colonial networks, and that their affective tone was determined by their material forms enabling the images to be legible to a specific audience. The material performances afforded to the photographs such as labelling, trimming, arrangement in albums, evidence of use and wear, and copying for publishing created scientific and anthropological meanings. Part of the collection was recently included in an artistic intervention by a Malawian fine artist, entitled the African Cowboy. For this series of artworks, historical photographs are juxtaposed with images from the American West to produce a digital composite image that interweaves discordant contexts, social relationships chronologically and aesthetically. The artworks defy anthropological connections and raise questions for the colonial photographic archive- specifically about how it is understood, translated and who should use historical photographs and for what? Importantly, this case exemplifies the complex ethical and political dimensions of what artistic reappropriation can accomplish and make possible.

panel Anth53
Photographs as objects of affective connection and disruption