Exploring how photography as a global technology takes on specific meanings when used and appropriated locally, this panel provides a glimpse into the associated dynamics of power, agency, and self-representation by considering the tensions that emerge during ethnographic engagements in the field.
The roots of the anthropological discipline are firmly embedded in theoretical concerns and methodological practices that have historically relied upon the systematic and regular observation of 'the Other'. Although site-mapping exercises and character illustrations are still crucial elements in the ethnographer's toolkit, the methodological use of photography in the field has created a wealth of new opportunities. Because these technologies were initially controlled exclusively by the ethnographer, the depiction of subjects captured by the photographic gaze was previously rather one-directional. However, due to the emerging global popularity and accessibility of photographic technologies, those who were once resigned to the position of photographic subject, or perhaps object, are now becoming comfortable behind the lens. As a response to this increasingly democratic access to photographic technologies, a new methodological practice has emerged: observing how our interlocutors see and represent themselves through their own self-reflective photographic engagements. Accordingly, this panel considers the social dynamics at play in the appropriation of photographic technologies, techniques, and practices by the people anthropologists seek to 'study' during fieldwork. Focusing especially on instances of ethnographic difficulty and disjuncture resulting from local interests and agendas, this panel provides a glimpse into the associated dynamics of power, agency, and self-representation. Moving from a general reflection over the methodological changes brought forward by grassroots photographic practices - ranging from the use of participatory photography in development settings to forms of self-representation in social media- this panel questions the new politics and agencies aligned with photography as a means of self-representation.