Accepted Paper:

Camilla Wedgwood's Manam Island Photographs: Temporal Transformations in Indigenous Responses to "Our" Archives as "Their" History  


Nancy Lutkehaus (University of Southern California)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the changing meaning of British anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood’s photographs of Manam Islanders, PNG taken in 1933. It analyzes the significance of the meanings the photos have assumed as pictorial history for the Manam at 3 different points in time, and issues of repatriation.

Paper long abstract:

The proposed paper analyzes the changing meaning of archival photographs of the Manam Islanders of Papua New Guinea taken by the British anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood in 1933. The photographs are currently housed in the National Library of Australia. I focus on the meanings Wedgwood's photographs have assumed as pictorial history for the Manam Islanders themselves at three different points in time when I, an American anthropologist who subsequently carried out ethnographic research on Manam Island, brought Wedgwood's photographs to Manam. When I first brought copies of the photographs with me to Manam in 1978 the images were treated by many villagers as sacred relics of their deceased ancestors. When I returned to Manam in 1994 to participate in the memorial ritual for the deceased chief of Zogari village, I combined Wedgwood's photos of the chief as a young boy with my own photographs of the chief to create a linear, western-style chronology of the life of the chief and, later, a video. Most recently, when I returned in 2011 with Wedgwood's photographs, these same images were transformed yet again. As a result of a violent volcanic eruption in 2005, the Manam were forced to evacuate their island home. For the Manam, who are still not allowed to return to live on the island, Wedgwood's photographs have apotheosized into a relic of a former way of life and sacred place now lost to them forever. I conclude with a discussion the issues involved in permanently repatriating these images to the islanders.

Panel P05
Reviving the archives as pictorial histories