Accepted Paper:

Social and material change in the early colonial Solomon Islands photograph collections of Charles Morris Woodford  


Aoife O'Brien (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the Solomon Islands photograph collection of Charles Morris Woodford, which documented a society engaging with the imposition of colonial rule and its associated social and material changes.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the photograph collections of Charles Morris Woodford (1852-1927), taken in the Solomon Islands during Woodford's visits in the late 1880's. An amateur naturalist, Woodford undertook three visits to the Solomons beginning in 1886, believing them to be relatively untouched by European influences. However, he quickly discovered these were not the "pristine" islands of his imagination. Although not yet under formal European control, these were islands and peoples fully immersed within colonial trade and material economies. In his photographic record, Woodford chose to document the people he encountered, taking portraits of indigenous people mostly in "traditional" dress, yet some chiefs were photographed wearing European dress, perhaps understanding such items as markers of status and rank. Woodford also took advantage of opportunities to photograph some of the more private aspects of Solomons society, photographing ancestral shrines and human skulls displayed within a canoe house.

Using Woodford's photographs, now digitised and held at the ANU, along with reference to the diaries from his first visits to the Solomons and his extensive ethnographic collections, this paper examines how Woodford's photographs offer documentation of a society that was gradually falling under greater colonial control, yet one in which customary practices and modes of life were continued. His photographs demonstrate the potentialities offered in combining photographic, artefact and archival research to reinvigorate and challenge our perceptions of how Solomon Islanders negotiated with the imposition of colonial rule. They also show how Woodford used his position as an outsider to enable access to people, places and things.

Panel P05
Reviving the archives as pictorial histories