Photography's past role in the study of 'cultural others' is ethically controversial. Challenging taken for granted framing of archival images contributes to informed reinterpretation. Using fieldwork and archival images, this panel revisits photography, subjects, and viewers, across time and space.
Ethics underpin both the anthropological and photographic endeavour. Photography's original role in the study of 'cultural others' was ambiguous and controversial. Early images, seen as objective scientific records and classification of human typologies, were subsequently associated with racialised profiling and discredited evolutionary theories. Initially, cameras were in the hands of privileged outsiders, including anthropologists, but ensuing photographs could serve as gifts, not merely as evidence of voyeuristic gaze and dominant intrusion. Recently, anthropologists have explored images constructed by non-western photographers (e.g., Pinney, composite prints in India). Photographs have potential for reinterpretation (Edwards). Alternative analyses are emerging of controversial but overlooked images lingering in official archives and newspaper files. Decades old images may re-animate isolated individuals, presenting key testimony, or reviving in elderly people lost memories for oral and ethnographic history. Old photographs also offer creative potential for descendants, with their insider knowledge, to reinterpret and/or reinforce the historical record. Additionally, roving professional photographers, skilled in aesthetics but with outsider perspectives and minimum grounded knowledge, may be crucially ignorant of what they choose to frame. Here, with insights from long-term fieldwork, the anthropologist can challenge such taken for granted framing of images, and contribute informed re-interpretation. The conveners will present images from fieldwork with Ghanaians, and Gypsies as photographed by journalists. We invite presentations and discussions of photographs hitherto confined to archives or other files. Here, there is the potential for a full range of interpretations, depending on the photographer, subject, viewer, time, and place.