This panel will explore new theoretical frames and ethnographic contexts that engage with the concept of 'presence' as a key mode through which to understand photographic usage, rather than a representation.
Recent theoretical work focusing on presence abandons models drawn from linguistics and suggests a turn away from language towards a more pictorial lexicon. What happens if you replace thinking with feeling in our understanding of the efficacy of photography and the claims that photographs make upon us? What kinds of histories can be written if we start from the image as the basis of a lived experience (presence) rather than a representation? How can an ethnographic perspective contribute to our understanding of photographic presences and what methods are appropriate? Recent projects involving indigenous communities have suggested that the presence of the ancestor or land is the dominant engagement, and representational and contextual issues surrounding the production of the image are deemphasized, for a variety of reasons. In turn, the destablization of the documentary and evidentiary capabilities of photography in other contexts, and its material elevation to fine art, museum piece, and so forth, have also pushed our understanding of photography's presence into a different frame of reference. What are the implications of this present moment for a contemporary ethnography of photography? The panel will explore the need for a refigured understanding of the evidentiary claims of photography and the problematics of twentieth-century photographic theory. We encourage submissions that explore new theoretical frames and new ethnographic contexts and challenge anthropologists to engage with 'presence' as a key mode through which to understand photographic usage: a "desire to share the awesome reality of people, things, events and feelings" (Runia 2006).