Accepted Paper:

Outsider Images of Gypsies Reinterpreted   


Judith Okely (Oxford UniversityUniversity of Hull)

Paper short abstract:

The outsider/journalist may record technically perfect images without understanding cultural context. Using photographs of Gypsies, ethnographic knowledge reveals alternative interpretations.

Paper long abstract:

The outsider photo/journalist may record technically perfect images without understanding the cultural content or meaning. Ethnographic knowledge can make new or alternative sense of such images constructed often with an ethnocentric eye. Grounded knowledge brings counter sense.

Here I pursue multiple meanings in photographs associated with the Gypsies, mainly from newspapers in my fieldwork locality. These were taken by local journalists, some by national photographers. Seemingly, the photojournalists encountered the Gypsies in limited encounters. The images have aesthetic framing, some with universalist or exoticised agenda. Others portray disorder and sedentarist values. Little is known about the context. But there is much to be retrieved. The anthropologist brings ethnographic knowledge to such photographs. Newspaper subeditors add the captions without grounded awareness of cultural specificities.

There is a difference between the panoptican gaze and the engaged act of seeing. Distinguish 'looking' from 'seeing'. The ethnographer's alternative interpretation rests on long-term interaction with subjects sometimes objectified by the outsider gaze. Images may be variously interpreted. Indigenous subjects have unique, detailed interpretations. The anthropologist, if not indigenous member, is intermediary.

The images here were assembled after fieldwork when the sites where the anthropologist had lived, and its occupants had been dispersed. They are primarily of Gypsy children, the occasional trailer interior, funerals, campsites, and public events with outsider access. Additional images were taken by the anthropologist- one rejected by her publisher as 'meaningless'. Thus there are contrasting cultural interpretations according to the viewer's specificity, whether outsider journalist, publisher 'expert', subject or insider anthropologist.

Panel P18
Revisiting the gaze and reinterpreting images across space and time: Photography, subjects, and viewers