Accepted Paper:

Visualisation and legitimization of tradition: aged people in ethnological documentary photography  


Marta Botikova (Comenius University in Bratislava)

Paper short abstract:

Slovakia has been frequently characterized as a traditional, mostly rural society with dominating patriarchal principles and high respect for seniors. Under these conditions representation and visualization of the concept of tradition involves, in particular, symbolic depiction of aged people.

Paper long abstract:

I will discuss a question concerning the link between representations of aged people and visualization of traditional culture. Ethnography was formed as a discipline with certain political objectives. Visual documentation has become an important tool for depicting specificity of particular ethnics. According to my preliminary findings, in the first half of the 20th century capturing old people was the dominant theme of ethnographic photography in Slovakia.

Photographic works of outstanding artists - photographers usually present aged people dressed in folk costumes, on the background of beautiful countryside or village surroundings. However, prevalence of elderly "models" is not the only significant feature of visual symbolism in these works. Their message would legitimize cultural uniqueness and permanence of the traditional values. Another point those documents show is the systematic relation in the representations of old people and children. That might be interpreted as expressing continuity of the tradition. Situations depicted in picturing men and women are also giving more possibilities for interpretation. People are shown during work, in the church, among relatives or neighbors. The question arises: are there any differences to be found in relation to gender and its symbolic meaning?

The idyllic view of traditional society was gradually denied in one stream of ethnographic photography in the late 60-ties. Traditional way of life was not comprehended that much as a source of beauty anymore: more it was presented as sore heritage, a dead end and frailty. Interestingly enough also those images concentrate on depicting old people in their everyday life.

Panel Gend003
Performing identities: age and gender related viewpoints to the poetics of past, present, and future