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Visual Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, October 2004


Photography and ambivalence


Although scant attention has been devoted to the

anthropological 'crisis in representation' of creating still
images as part of anthropological research, several
contemporary women anthropologists have written of
their misgivings. In this paper, I examine the ideas and
photographic practices of Ruth Behar, Lila Abu-Lughod,
Serena Nanda, Barbara Tedlock, Kristen Hastrup and
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, all of whom hold ambivalent
attitudes toward photography. I will identify common
concerns as well as strengths acknowledged by them. Also,
I will examine new ways in which they and a number of
other anthropologists are re-visioning photographic
practices and creating more equitable relationships
between researchers and subjects.

Although a major criticism of anthropological study

that emerged within the 'crisis in representation' of the
1980s and 1990s was directed at the visualist emphasis
of constructing knowledge (most notably, culture as
something observed through participant observation),
the critique of constructing Others and their realities
has continued, ironically, to be largely restricted to
assessments of the written word. Exceptions are
primarily centred on the creation of ethnographic films
made with anthropologists' input or by anthropologists
themselves. However, the creation and publication of
anthropologists' stiU images have been largely ignored
as a subject of focused critique (Dominguez 2000: 377)
despite the great number of anthropologists who engage
in taking and publishing still images.
My own questioning of photographic practices within
anthropological work stemmed from an early stint of
fieldwork. In the course of gathering information on
eastern Pacific quilts and quilt-like textiles called
ttfaifai, I created two photographs within the public
arena of community events that occur frequently in the
islands: a formal departure and a wedding feast. The
candid close-ups of people expressing heartfelt
emotions turned out very well in composition and
technique - so well, in fact, that I came to think of
them as 'my National Geographic photographs' because
they had similar properties to many of the colourful
and arresting images of that publication. I never

published the pictures, keeping them only for the

personal pleasure of enjoying their aesthetics and the
memories they evoked for me. Since I had not expressly
sought permission of those in the images, I came to
have very ambivalent feelings about them. By contrast,
another photograph that I took in the course of visually
documenting Tahitian tifaifai is one that I find less
problematic, if not as engaging aesthetically. The maker
of the tifaifai who agreed to my request to include her
in front of her creation participated in constructing the
photograph; she instructed her granddaughter to put
on 'nice clothes' and did so herself. The two then stood
proudly in front of the woman's tifaifai in a formal
pose that conveyed her sense of a correct photographic
portrait. Providing the tifaifai maker with a copy of the
photograph afterwards and carefully recording her
name and that of her granddaughter for possible fiiture
use also eased any feelings of ambivalence on my part.
While photographic practices within the
anthropological discipline have been variously utilized
and regarded, it is a rare anthropologist who does not
use a single lens reflex (SLR) or digital camera as
standard equipment when engaged in research. Even
those anthropologists who do not plan to incorporate
photographs into publications or use photography as
part of their research methodology, rapport-building
strategies, or PowerPoint and website presentations,
usually create some stiU images. Thus, given the now
well-established reflexive turn in anthropological
thinking, it is surprising that so few anthropologists
have written about the use of photography in their
work. This might be linked to the general lack of
attention to visual forms of communication within
anthropology, as well as a common oversight that text
and images are often interrelated (e.g. Hastrup 1992). It
might also be partially attributed to our imagesaturated society in which image production and
viewing is so pervasive that it eludes many scholars'
critical attention. In light of these forces, it is
heartening that a small number of contemporary
anthropologists have considered the use and place of
still photography within their work.

Joyce D. Hammond is Professor of Anthropology at Western Washington University where she teaches a course on visual anthropology. Recent publications
include: Telling a Tale: Margaret Mead's Photographic Portraits of Fa'amotu, A Samoan Taupou (2003), Difference and the I/Eye of the Beholder: Revisioning
America through Travelogues (2002), and Photography, Tourism and the Kodak Hula Show (2000).

ISSN 1472-586X printed/ISSN 1472-5878 online/04/020135-10

DOI: 10.1080/1472586042000301638

2004 International Visual Sociology Association


/. D. Hammond

Men as well as women have identified concerns about

the creation and use of still photography in
anthropological work, but, to date, more female
anthropologists seem to he reflexively discussing their
use of photography. Perhaps, consciously or not,
women anthropologists are challenged by a western
popular notion that associates photographic imagery
with intuition, art and implicit knowledge, qualities
commonly viewed as feminine, deceptive and irrational
(Scherer 1992: 32). More likely, in my opinion, is the
interest women anthropologists may take in various
issues feminists have addressed as affecting all women:
visibility/invisibility conventions in expectations and
norms that affect women's behaviour, the male gaze
and image/appearance pressures from the media.
The issues raised by Susan Sontag in On Photography in
1973 coincide with representational issues centered on
power relations with which feminism and
postmodernism have grappled. Sontag argued that
photography replicates and reifies the process of taking
something from someone, since an image has a
metonymical relationship to its subject through the
mechanical/chemical (and now digital) process that
relies on something 'out there' to translate into an
image, even if it may be drastically altered once
'captured'. When printed, the image's subject is literally
rendered into an object. Despite the fact that a printed
photograph is something concrete that can be given
back to a person (and, in the past, was perhaps more
significant as a gesture of reciprocity than a book
written in a language unfamiliar to its recipient), a still
image does not allow the 'voice' of someone pictured to
be heard. The authority of the photographer in
choosing the subject matter, the time to photograph,
the angles, focal length and so on encapsulate the
essence of a traditional anthropological research
approach that placed the researcher in the position of
greatest control.
In this paper I explore the ambivalence of some women
anthropologists who have written about the creation
and use of stiU photography in their own work. I will
identify common concerns as well as strengths
acknowledged in the use of photography by these
anthropologists. I will also examine new directions that
a number of anthropologists are exploring for
photographic work in their research and activism.

Ruth Behar, Lila Abu-Lughod, Serena Nanda, Barbara

Tedlock, Kirsten Hastrup and Nancy Scheper-Hughes

are contemporary anthropologists who have created

and used photographs as part of their research and
published work. In addition to including still images
within their ethnographies, three of these women have
had one of their photographs published on the covers
of one or more of their ethnographies. Nanda's 1999
Neither Man Nor Woman, Abu-Lughod's 1993 Writing
Women's Worlds and 1986 Veiled Sentiments, and
Behar's 1986 The Presence of the Past in a Spanish
Village and 1993 Translated Woman feature the
anthropologists' informants or consultants on the cover
image. Along with an author's chosen title, which
constitutes a textual communication, the cover image
sends a visual message to the potential reader.
Behar is the only one of the three authors to have
written explicitly about her cover photograph. In her
1996 book The Vulnerable Observer, she refers to the
cover photograph of her earlier book The Presence of the
Past in a Spanish Village an image which notably did
not receive any textual commentary in that book. In
Behar's 1996 work, she recounts that she depicted the
wife and husband featured in the cover photograph in a
manner supportive to her title and thesis (a theme, I
would like to point out, that is reiterated in the choice
of photographs within the text and written observations
as well). She also reflects on the way the photograph
was perceived by its subjects:
Hilaria, with her husband, Balbino, appeared
in the cover photography of my book The
Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village, poised

before a hay cart. When they saw the cover,

they said that they must look really poor to
people in the United States. I had, indeed,
chosen a picture of them in peasant guise, not
one of them in their street clothes or Sunday
best. Only as peasants could they fit into my
argument, be made visible there. (1996: 60)
Whereas Behar explicitly critiques her own selectivity of
subject matter and its effect upon her consultants, AbuLughod only indirectly refers to what must be her
consultants' reactions to cover photographs that appear
on her books. Despite the informal image of her 1993
book Writing Women's Worlds, Bedouin Stories, an
image of a young Bedouin woman spinning wool with a
handheld spindle, within the book Abu-Lughod tells
... the photographs people in this community
really prefer are those in which they or those
they love pose stiffly, unsmiling, in their best
clothes; they always told me to keep the candid
shots for myself. (1993: 37)

Photography and ambivalence

Interestingly, it is on the cover of her earlier book,

Veiled Sentiments, that Abu-Lughod conforms to the
preferences of her consultants. The picture is of an
older woman and a girl, identified by caption within
the text as 'An independent old woman with her niece'.
The two stand erect and in frontal pose to the camera.
Their solemn expressions and embellished clothes
suggest that this would, by their standards, be
considered a desirable photograph.
In many ways cover images, available to the view of any
passerby, embody some of the most important issues
facing anthropologists who use still photography in
their work. Four issues of representation especially
resonate for anthropologists/photographers who wish
to rethink their positions vis-a-vis those among whom
they work.
A primary issue, as suggested earlier in this essay,
centres on gaining permission of those who are
photographed. Coming from societies in which laws
protect people who wish to photograph others in public
contexts, many anthropologists have not considered the
ethics of creating images of others in different cultural
contexts. This is complicated by the historical precedent
of anthropologists gathering data to increase knowledge
for knowledge's sake. Anthropologists historically did
not find it necessary to ask permission to photograph
'their' subjects. Indeed, many subjects of early
anthropological work were unfamiliar with the
workings of cameras or were intrigued with the
equipment and expressly requested that they be
photographed. However, as the power inequalities of
researchers and many of their subjects began to be
seriously examined in the 1960s, the question of gaining
express permission came to the fore for those
anthropologists who began to examine personal ethical
decisions within their relationships to others.
Another ethical set of concerns revolves around the way
in which images and captions may objectify people, an
outcome that usually goes unacknowledged and is
frequently tied to unexamined conventions of past
anthropological imaging. In older anthropological
works, photographic conventions of distancing and
exotification were frequently employed, even if
unconsciously, as a means to support the
anthropological textual analyses that revolved around
difference. Depicted in their most distinctively nonwestern clothing, sometimes pictured engaged in an
activity unfamiliar to the potential viewer, at other
times pictured next to a person of European descent as
a means to show a difference in height, modesty
conventions and demeanor, anthropological subjects of


the past were frequently cast as racial or ethnic types.

Captions reinforced the photographic visual codes and
rarely mentioned a person's name in lieu of
demographic trait information such as 'a racial type' or
'a Maasai elder'. Sometimes exotic or nostalgic western
epithets were used in captions, such as 'a village
The question of anonymity of anthropological subjects
is at the centre of one form of ambivalence with which
some anthropologists struggle. In keeping with past
ethical practices of protecting subjects' identities, an
anthropologist may elect to conceal a person's identity
either through refraining from photographing someone,
photographing the person in a manner that makes it
difficult to identify him or her, or by employing a
pseudonym or deliberately omitting a person's name. A
decision not to include a person's name, however, may
recreate the distanced effect of using generic captions
associated with less sensitive historical precedents. In
keeping with current ethical guidelines to allow people
to make their identities known if they wish or hidden if
they choose, anthropologists may now feel obliged to
engage in dialogue with photographed subjects to
determine their subjects' wishes on naming practices.
Inclusion of personal names may detract from
anthropologists' motivations for creating an image, as
for example, if an image is meant to document typical
proxemic behavior or representative hair treatment. It
may also prove difficult to collect or display all the
names of a large group of people who are subjects of a
Yet another ethical issue centres on the way in which
photographs may provide visibility for people in a
manner that parallels the feminist concept of voice. For
marginalized people especially, a photographic presence
may serve as an important political statement of their
existence and significance. The anthropologist/
photographer may collaborate with subjects to ensure
that they are represented and represented as they wish.
Behar's cover of Translated Woman provides a case
study for a number of the issues discussed above. The
cover is a photograph Behar took of 'Esperanza', the
'translated woman' who is the focus of the book. While,
on the one hand, Esperanza's true identity is concealed
through a pseudonym (and in reading the book one
comes to understand the necessity for protection of this
kind), on the other hand, her identity is displayed
through her picture. This contradiction, remarked upon
by many after the book's appearance, is paradoxical and
perhaps tied to a contradictory, if not ambivalent,
approach on the part of Behar. It is clear from the


/, D. Hammond

image's construction that Esperanza agreed to the

photographic portrait. However, whether she also
agreed to her image being used as the cover of the book
cannot be ascertained from the image.
Standing in front of a stone waif, Esperanza directs her
attention to Behar and her camera for a fuU, frontal
image. Next to Esperanza is a photographic portrait of
Pancho Villa, the famous Mexican hero to whom
Esperanza expresses aUegiance, The subject position
that Behar guarantees to Esperanza through the
collaborative creation of the image is supported by a
strong inference within the book that it was Esperanza's
decision to pose herself next to Villa's portrait. In a
sense, Esperanza mirrors Behar in assuming the
authority to create an image that fits her purpose. The
inclusion of another portrait within her own portrait
not only communicates Esperanza's political loyalties, it
also serves as a reminder of the constructed nature of
Esperanza's own portrait.
Through photography, the reader is tacitly invited to
identify with Behar in the role of one who can learn
much from Esperanza. Behar's cover photograph ties
the reader's first encounter with Esperanza with Behar's
own first meeting of her. Perhaps the ambiguity of
revealing Esperanza's identity through a photograph,
even though her real name is concealed, paralleled by
the ambivalence that Behar expresses in how she first
approached Esperanza as a researcher. As Behar
recounts in the book, she first met Esperanza in 1983 as
a result of a photographic incident, Behar was in a
Mexican cemetery on the Day of the Dead busy
'snapping away at the sight of the tombstones people
were lavishing decorating'. Attracted by Esperanza's
striking appearance and likeness to 'something out of
one of Diego Rivera's epic Indian women canvases',
Behar asked Esperanza if she might photograph her:
She looked at me haughtily and asked me, with
a brusqueness I had not encountered before
among local women, why I wanted to
photograph her, I made some weak reply, and
she let me photograph her ,,, I jumped on her
as an alluring image of Mexican womanhood,
ready to create my own exotic portrait of her,
but the image turned around and spoke back
to me, questioning my project and daring me
to carry it out (t993: 4)
In discussions of the circumstances of negotiating
image-making with their consultants, anthropologists
can undermine the objectifying process of
photographing and raise ethical issues for the reader's
consideration. In their honest reappraisal of taking

photographs, several scholars have entered into

refiexive self-critique, Tedlock has twice commented in
written form on particular incidents of photographing:
One summer evening as my husband and I sat
in a Zuni kitchen with a returned pilgrim from
Kachina Village, the Land of the Dead, I
suggested that I might take a picture of the
pilgrim, 'for history and all'. The family
agreed, but the first photo revealed only a
gleaming-white electronic blur bouncing off
his glasses, and the second, without glasses, a
blank red-eyed stare. Pictures no one loved,
liked, or even wanted. Instead of a loving
family portrait, those photos betrayed my
insistent documentary urge to freeze, store,
and retrieve the authenticity of an encounter
with a returned Zuni pilgrim, a classic act of
ethnographic bad faith, (1995: 277-278)
Sometimes ethical dilemmas in photography stem from
subjects' requests rather than an agenda based on an
anthropologist's motives for photographing. In Nanda's
second edition of Neither Man Nor Woman, for
example, the anthropologist describes an ethical
dilemma that occurred while she was doing fieldwork
in India among the Hijra, As she recounts, she was
particularly concerned about ethical questions in her
research and publications 'because of the inherently
exotic, and potentially sensationalist nature of the
group' she was studying (1999: 156), One of her key
consultants urged Nanda to take a picture of her genital
area, which had been transformed through operation
from male to female:
'You must take a picture of my operated area,'
she insisted, 'so that people in your country
will also know the power and skill of the
hijras', I felt really torn. On the one hand, I
had no doubt that such photographs were a
legitimate part of my data gathering. But I also
knew that I would never feel comfortable
showing such pictures, even to a scholarly
audience, and that to focus on a disembodied
physical part of a person who was my friend
would be contrary to my understanding of a
human personality as a whole, (1999: 156-157)
The ambivalence that Nanda felt is a constant theme in
many of the writings of the anthropologists whose work
I examine here. At times this ambivalence stems from a
disagreement about a decision to take or not to take a
specific photograph; many times, however, it revolves
around the broader question of using photography at
all, Behar asserts in The Vulnerable Observer, 'I found
myself resisting the "I" of the ethnographer as a

Photography and ambivalence

privileged eye, a voyeuristic eye, an all-powerful eye'.

Behar informs readers that 'Feminist writers within the
academy have devoted a considerahle amount of energy
to ... the difficult question of how women are to make
other women the subjects of their gaze without
objectify'ing them and thus ultimately betraying them'
(1996: 21). Some of her own struggle is manifested in
Translated Woman:
I know that as I walked through the streets of
San Luis photographing Esperanza with the
bucket of vegetables on her head, I often felt as
though we were playing the parts of Arthur
Munby and Hannah CuUwick, I
photographing the working-class woman at
every turn, she willingly the subject of my gaze.
(1993: 244)
Despite their articulated concerns and assessments of
negative outcomes that can result from photographic
practices, the anthropologists' use of photographs in
some of the same works that hold their remarks also
reveal their assessment of some positive reasons to
utilize photographs.
As a material object that is often prized by their
consultants, anthropologists may take photographs as a
favour to those among whom they work. Tedlock, for
example, twice mentions a Zuni child asking the
Tedlocks (her uncle and aunt in the Zuni family to
which the couple was attached) to take a photograph,
one of which Tedlock included in her book The
Beautiful and the Dangerous.
The familial use of photographs is noted on several
occasions by Behar, Tedlock and Hastrup and, as
surrogate kin or, at least as accepted community
members among those whose lives they shared,
anthropologists are often witness to others'
photographic documents:
Marta focuses her camera on all of my
Mexican wares. 'Look at all the beautiful things
from Mexico', she says into the [video]
camera. She seems to be displaying for her
family back in Mexico all the Mexican things
the anthropologist has in her house, which the
Mexican herself, namely, Marta, doesn't want
to have. (1996: 91)
Even though they often do not include a person's own
photographs in their work, references to their
informants' photographic collections are often
instructive to anthropologists, and the lessons they
glean from seeing others' image collections are passed
on to the reader. In The Beautiful and the Dangerous,


Tedlock cleverly juxtaposes information about

photographs of Zuni people taken by Matilda
Stevenson, an early anthropologist working among the
Zuni in the 1880s, and Stevenson's unethical approach
to making them, with a personal collection of
photographs of a young Zuni named Joe. Significantly,
Tedlock includes two of Stevenson's images, while none
of Joe's are placed within the book. After recounting
that Joe shared 'an old boot box fuU of curled and
faded colour snapshots, mostly from Vietnam', Tedlock
assigns captions to the non-pictured photographs that
parallel the captions she replicates from Stevenson's
published work. Examples of the captions that
Tedlock juxtaposes over several pages (1992: 173-187)




Through the ironic ploy of fabricating captions in the
scientific mode of her predecessor, Tedlock draws a
reader's attention to the objectifying properties of past
anthropological research and the dangers of her own
discussion of Zuni lives. At the same time though, she
undermines the stereotypes of Native Americans by
assigning brief descriptions of constructed moments
from one of her consultant's lives that he and others
created for his own use. She safeguards his privacy as
well by not including any of the images from his
personal collection.
With an interest in their consultants' own photography,
Tedlock and Hastrup are able to 'see' further into the
actual versus the ideal of certain societal behaviors.
Tedlock, for example, comes across a photograph of


/, D. Hammond

masked Hewa Hewa Clowns and queries Joe on this

Now wait just a minute, we thought it wasn't
allowed to take pictures of masked dancers, 'It
isn't.' Well? 'They're members of the family,
and besides, I took it right here in the house.
Look here, man, you can see it's a flash
picture. Do you want it? It's a Polaroid. Maybe
you could figure out how to make some bigger
ones to give to the rest of the guys. Mom, and
me'. (1992: 186-187)
Hastrup also discovers some truths when she is shown
an Icelandic family's photo album. She terms the
photographs 'icons of memory' and writes that they
'were among their dearest treasures'. She was shown
pictures of the family's two sons in their christening
gowns, but was surprised to see the boys photographed
at the ages they were:
Further questioning revealed that when the
boys had actually been christened the family
had no camera; but when they were 1 and 4
years old, respectively, the parents had the
opportunity to borrow one. Then they had
dressed the huge babies in their old christening
robe and taken photographs of them 'so that
we had their christening pictures', the mother
Christening pictures they were, but on which
scale were they authentic, and in which sense
were they archives to the family's past? They
certainly were representation of 'pastness' but
they were not history (cf. Tonkin 1990: 27),
This incident taught me, first, that we have to
question the relationship between visibility and
veracity. Next, I learnt by direct experience
that history is not fixed, it consists in a series
of representations that may or may not
coincide with one's own conventions of
representation. (Hastrup 1998: 66-67)
Despite her sceptism in the veracity of photographs, a
sceptism shared by Tedlock and Behar in particular,
and despite her assertion that photographs are quite
inadequate to the demands of ethnography since they
cannot communicate anything except what someone
wants to say about them, Hastrup uses photographs in
her 1998 ethnography A Place Apart, an Anthropological
Study of the Icelandic World. Of particular interest to
me is her inclusion of a photograph she took at a ram
festival. In an earlier piece of writing in which she
generally denounces the use of photography, Hastrup
described the experience of photographing the event:

From the periphery of the event, where I

moved about in order to be inconspicuous, I
took pictures and made notes, trying hard to
look like an honorary male. It was impossible,
and eventually, I had to leave out of sheer
embarrassment ,,, I was satisfied, however, to
have been there and to have been able to
document this remarkable event .., I even had
photos from the sacred grove of a male secret
When, later, I saw the pictures, they were
hopeless. Ill-focused, badly lit, lopsided and
showing nothing but the completely
uninteresting backs of men and rams. While I
was taking them I had the impression that I
was making an almost pornographic record of
a secret ritual. They showed nothing but bore
the marks of my own inhibition, resulting
from my transgression of the boundary
between gender categories.
This is the point: the nature of the event could
not be recorded in photography. The texture
of maleness and sex which filled the room had
been an intense sensory experience, but it was
invisible. The reality of the total social event
had been transformed into a two-dimensional
image, a souvenir (cf. Sontag 1973: 9). For me
it invokes a particular memory, for others the
information is very limited.
Probably better photographers, or just male
ethnographers, could have made a finer
photographic record of the ram exhibition.
They would still have to realise, however, that
pictures have a limited value as ethnographic
'evidence'. While one can take pictures of
ritual groves and of the participants in the
ritual, one cannot capture their secret on
celluloid. This has to be told. (1992: 9)
Yet in her 1998 ethnography that includes 11 of her
black and white photographs, Hastrup includes one of
the ram festival. Aside from the photograph's
respectable look as a photograph, the image seems to
fulfil the same role as the other photographs of the
book - a simultaneous personal testimony of fieldwork
in Iceland (indeed, three of the book's photographs
specifically depict her Icelandic field sites) and a visual
record that accompanies the textual examinations of
her fieldwork experience and its results.
In her written work, Hastrup emphasizes the
significance of landscape to Icelanders, The eight
predominantly landscape photographs support her
written statement, but more importantly convey the

Photography and ambivalence

'feature of visibility' that Hastrup contends 'has in all

likelihood deeply marked people's sensation of its
historical magnitude' (1998: 118). Two photographs in
particular - 'Appropriating the vastness of nature: the
church at IngjaldshoU' and 'Return to silence' emphasize the importance of visuality through visual
communication. The former depicts a church rendered
very small against the snow swept, bleak landscape, and
the latter depicts a few faraway houses huddled under a
hillside, facing the shore of the ocean. Both black and
white photographs encapsulate a feeling of starkness
and create a contrast of human habitation to nature
reiterated in the contrast of the black and white images.
Hastrup's choice of distance in creating the
photographs creates a visual parallel to her written
descriptions. A reader senses through visual means the
same interpretation Hastrup articulates through her
experimental ethnographic text. In harmony with her
musical metaphors, the poetry she includes at the
beginning and end, and her decision to alternatively use
first and third person when referring to herself, such
images convey another sensual dimension to Hastrup's
characterization of herself and her subject. The
photographs may indeed be 'thinner' than the thick
description that Hastrup elsewhere attributes to text;
her choice to include them, however, signals that she
assigns positive value to their communicative
The historical debate as to whether photography should
be a part of science (as a document) or of art (an
interpretation) is, in some respects, still a part of the
ambivalence that anthropologists may feel toward the
medium. Yet what may contribute to feelings of
ambivalence toward photography may also be
considered a desirable combination of factors. In The
Beautiful and the Dangerous, Tedlock succinctly alludes
to these combined properties:
Wanting images that were simultaneously
documentary and interpretive, in order to
learn about the butchering process [of a deer]
and to evoke the dismemberment of this lovely
once-living heing, I decided to hounce my
electronic flash gun off the whitewashed ceiling
at the classic f5.6. My shutter clicked and the
gun flashed. (1992: 125)
The reader of The Beautiful and the Dangerous is
presented with one of the photographs in question in
one section of the book and images of beautifully
painted ceramic bowls in another - visualizations that
reflect Tedlock's interpretation of Zuni ideas about the
beautiful and the dangerous.


Most of Abu-Lughod's lyrical images of Bedouin people

in both Veiled Sentiments and Writing Women's Worlds
may be seen as contradictory to the sense of Bedouin
aesthetics of a proper picture. Yet the anthropologist's
choice to include candid images of people engaged in a
wide variety of activities suggests that she finds
photography to be an expressive form in the translation
process of constructing an ethnography in the same
way that the poetry of the Bedouin people expresses
truths about their lives. The intimacy of the
photographs further communicates Abu-Lughod's
position within the group as a trusted and beloved
family member and friend.
The 'interpretive turn in anthropology' seems well
suited to the use of a camera in a sensitive pair of
hands, and it is the foregrounding of their
interpretation that Tedlock, Hastrup and Behar seem to
emphasize in their photographic work in a variety of
ways. While Tedlock and Behar foreground their use of
photography as a visual mode of interpretive
communication in written statements, I contend that all
of the anthropologists discussed in this paper use
images in a self-conscious manner to highlight them as
interpretive devices (cf. Dominguez 2000). The
juxtaposition of the photographs with some
ethnographic textual treatments that may be
categorized as experimental may aid the reader/viewer
in understanding the photographs as careful,
interpretive constructions similar to a first
person anecdote, a poem or a series of reflexive

Given the prominence of written texts in

anthropological history and their foreseeable ongoing
importance into the future, the inclusion of
photographic images in books can contribute to the reevaluation and formulation of changes in photographic
forms. The juxtaposition of text and image is one that
some anthropologists are still exploring to the mutual
advantage of both communicative forms.
'Photomontage with Texts' by Lisa Pope (the
photographer) and Amy Heffernan (the selector of
quotes) is such an experimental form. It is a
collaborative work that often juxtaposes photographic
portraits of well-known women anthropologists such as
Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead,
Zora Neale Hurston and Gladys Reichard) with
quotations from seven women anthropologists' works
(Pope and Heffernan 1993: 327-333).


/, D. Hammond

In a quest for empowering themselves and others, and

in an effort to avoid the problems of imaging associated
with anthropology's past, some anthropologists have
begun to experiment with new photographic forms and
uses, Tedlock alludes to a means of undermining the
nostalgic stereotypes about Others in The Beautiful and
the Dangerous:

I felt suddenly compelled to take photos of the

skinning and butchering process [of a deer], I
could just see it: my grad-school friends
lounging on floor piUows and Navajo rugs
dreaming away during one of our exotic
Southwestern slide shows, vision-questing an
ancient, pristine, melancholy, lost America,
then - these gory slides. The dull eye of the
dead deer and the gleam in the butcher's eye,
(1992: 124)
Another vein of exploration is in critiques of
photographic work created by members of dominant
groups in the past (Geary 1988, Edwards 1995, Poole
1997). In 'Familiarising the South Pacific', Australian
curator Ann Stephen juxtaposes an old photograph
(1870-1900) of two Solomon Islands men taken by
white Australians with a photograph of her own
grandfather and uncle in military uniform circa World
War I, Her intent, she writes, is that by 'placing my
family snaps beside these foreign bodies, we can
glimpse something of what Australian culture sought
out in the "other", and what remained unavailable'
(1993: 70),
As a communication form that can be conceived
independently of written texts, some anthropologists'
photographic images are part of a growing emphasis
within the discipline to explore subjective, emotive and
performative means to research and express facets of
the human condition. Given the innovative features of
this trend, it is not surprising that it encourages'
interdisciplinary cross-fertilization both within and
outside of the academy,
Cynthia Novack has applied her experience as a dancer
to her perceptions and formulations as an
I decided to make a dance that used the
ambiguity of the photographs in The Book of
the Dance [by Agnes de Mille, published in
1963] - their simultaneous evocations and
reductions of dancing - and the ambiguity of
my feelings - my desire to know and my ironic
sense of the impossibility of knowing, my
affection for the photographs and my critique
of the book in which they appear, (1992: 85)

In a piece entitled 'Artifacts (The Empire After

Colonialism)', Novack wrote:
I constructed a bipartite dance with two
radically contrasting sections. Part I,
'Diorama', displays a series of images taken
from the book, in a continuous, slowly moving
sequence, ,,, While my embodiment of the
photographs alludes directly to the book, my
choreographic structure subverts it, ,,,
Because the movement never stops, the
spectator can never be sure precisely what
constitutes a 'genuine' historical artifact and
what is my improvisation, I hope that at least
some of the images become blurred, losing
their discrete identity and rendering their
reconstruction problematic for the viewer,
(1992: 86)
Elizabeth Edwards' interest in deconstructing the
historical sociopolitical relations of photographs led her
to collaborate with photo-artist Elizabeth Williams in
exploring the intersecting space between aesthetic
expressive and ethnographic documentary in
photography. Together, the two wished to utilize
photography's 'potential to question, arouse curiosity,
tell in different voices or see through different eyes' in
order to explore 'components of culture which require
a more evocative, multidimensional, even ambiguous
expression than the realist documentary paradigm
permits' (1997: 54), Their project, at a theoretical level,
was conceived 'to reveal the ambiguities of the realist
paradigm' historically used by anthropology with
photography and to permeate the 'The Boundary' by
'admitting the metaphorical, allegorical, and expressive'
and 'critiquing the fixity of imagery of photographs
normally described as ethnographic' (1997: 55, 64), A
series of photographs conceived as postcards - objects
that literally cross boundaries of space - were taken by
Williams in Northern Sinai in 1993, With subject
matter of fragments of material culture (sandals, pieces
of cloth) against desert soil, the images were capable of
'questioning, positing issues, rather than proclaiming
"this-is-how-it-is" (1997: 66), Edwards, a curator of the
Pitt Rivers Museum, established a visual dialogue with
Williams by responding with purchased postcards of
stereotypical views of Oxford, which also had some
visual or metaphorical comment on the Sinai material.
The ambivalence of tourist encounters, the fragments of
subject matter and of images themselves (which
metaphorically refer to contents outside the frame, to
history or memory or cultural experience) and the
ambiguities of the medium were aU part of the visual
dialogue into which Edwards and Williams entered.

Photography and ambivalence

Other anthropologists have begun to explore a number

of innovative approaches to photography as a tool for
empowerment. Although still photographs literally
render people within the frames voiceless, a consciously
constructed power of presence (El Guindi 1993) may be
likened to a visual voice and be a tool of empowerment.
The power of presence is explored by Behar in The
Vulnerable Observer specifically in reference to events
that are threatening to the lives and well-being of
others: ,,,'do you, the observer, stay behind the lens of
the camera, switch on the tape recorder, keep pen in
hand? Are their limits - of respect, piety, pathos - that
should not be crossed, even to leave a record? But if
you can't stop the horror, shouldn't you at least
document it?' (1996: 2). Nancy Scheper-Hughes,
advocate for a 'barefoot anthropology' that takes a
militant stance on the primacy of the ethical, sounds a
similar note, distinguishing between anthropologist as
spectator and anthropologist as witness:
I think of some of my anthropological subjects
.,, for whom anthropology is not a 'hostile
gaze' but rather an opportunity for selfexpression. Seeing, listening, touching,
recording can be, if done with care and
sensitivity, acts of solidarity. Above all, they are
the work of recognition. Not to look, not to
touch, not to record can be the hostile act, an
act of indifference and of turning away. (1995:
In Death Without Weeping {1992), Scheper-Hughes uses
photography as a visual testament to the difficult lives
of her Brazilian barrio consultants. The full frontal
gazes of the people attest to their awareness of ScheperHughes' camera. Her captions and textual discussions
similarly support the documentation quality of her
photographs which recall those of such photographic
activists as Lewis Hine, Along with photographs of iU
and dying children, a woman begging for the sake of
feeding her children and a child's corpse, ScheperHughes includes an image of Nestle milk products and
women organizing for self-help, Scheper-Hughes does
not include photographs of impoverished subjects
gratuitously. Hers is an activist agenda that uses images
as well as text to inform and argue for change.
One important trend for empowerment within
anthropology is that of photo-elicitation (and, more
specifically, photovoice). Information derived from
showing consultants photographs can be traced back to
the beginning of this century. However, recent photoelicitation projects differ from earlier work, much of
which was conducted by women anthropologists about


women's art forms, by expanding on the collaborative

efforts of an anthropologist and her consultants and
emphasizing an activist agenda. In contrast to earlier
work based on the photographs of anthropologists or
museums, much recent work centres on photographs
taken by consultants themselves, Lynn Blinn and
Amanda Harrist, for example, used Polaroid snapshots
of re-entry women students that the women themselves
made. The anthropologists spearheaded the project in
order to explore with the women the challenges of
combining the demands of school and home life
(1991). Caroline Wang, Mary Ann Burris and Xiang
Yue Ping introduced a photovoice project to rural
Chinese women as 'an innovative methodology that
puts cameras in the hands of rural women and other
constituents who seldom have access to those who
make decisions over their lives' (1996: 1391). In the
past eight years, a wide range of projects in many
countries have drawn from the photovoice concept.
The representational issues with which anthropologists
have grappled - objectification, objectivity and
authenticity, ethnographic authority, visibility/voice,
and the gaze, are ones that have led many female
anthropologists to feel ambivalence towards the use of
photography in their work. As the juxtaposition of
images and text for a number of prominent women
anthropologists has revealed, that ambiguity has led to
a variety of thoughts and approaches of using
photography within ethnographic texts.
In new arenas that depart from the burdens of past
ethnographic practices, some anthropologists have
begun to explore their conflictual feelings toward
photography using photography itself as a means to
that end. The limitations of the medium are explored as
strengths in work that draws on such photographic
properties as ambiguity, fragmentation and emotive
properties. The anthropologists discussed in this essay
have already begun to challenge the disciplinary
boundaries and to draw upon others' insights. Works
such as Jo Spence and Joan Soloman's anthology What
Can a Woman Do with a Camera? (1995), Elaine
Reichek's art/photo montages, Barbara Kruger's
photographic activist posters and a variety of other
feminist photographic works that critique western
hegemonic visual discourses are among the resources
available to all anthropologists.
Anthropological re-visioning of photography is used to
critique past photographic practices that constructed


/. D. Hammond

Others in uneven power relations. It is also a tool to

create means of empowerment for subjects and
anthropologists alike. The deconstruction of old
dichotomies and boundaries, combined with a new
means of expressing and acting on such significant
themes as empowerment, visibility and collaborative
communication herald future directions for
anthropologists who wish to combine photography
with their works and lives.

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