This panel will focus on the use of still photography in anthropology, both in theory and practice. Topics will cover both the use of historical photographs as documents and the potential use of the camera in the field, past, present and in the future.
Photographic anthropology or ethnographic photography may be defined as the use of photographs for the recording and understanding of culture(s), both the use of the subjects and of the photographers. What makes a photograph ethnographic is not necessarily the intention of its production but how it is used to inform viewers ethnographically (Scherer 1995).
Picture-taking was revolutionized in the late 1890s with the invention of Kodak's "hand camera" designed to hold a preloaded roll of 100 exposures. Although the beginning of visual anthropology can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century the box camera was smaller and easier to use in the field. Boas, Rivers, Malinowski and others anthropologists made ground-making use of photographs in the early decades of the 20th Century, but by the 1930s the professional use of camera stills was out of fashion despite Mead' and Bateson's brave effort in Bali.
When the field of visual anthropology in the United States eventually was professionalized, it evolved gradually from the 1950s into the 1970s. However, from the first attempt at creating an academic home for visual anthropology with the Film Study Center founded at Harvard in 1958 to the impact of Jean Rouch, visual anthropology has to a large extent been identified as ethnographic film-making and not still photography. This panel seeks to promote still photography as a field of visual anthropology by discussing its present status in its historical context, as well as outlining its future in a digitalized 21st Century.