An Excess of Description: Ethnography, Race, and Visual Technologies Author(s): Deborah Poole Reviewed work(s): Source: Annual Review

of Anthropology, Vol. 34 (2005), pp. 159-179 Published by: Annual Reviews Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/03/2012 12:29
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of Description: Race, and Ethnography, Visual Technologies
Deborah Poole
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218; Department of Anthropology, email:

An Excess

Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2005. 34:159-79 The Annual Review of Anthropology is online at doi: 10.1146/ annurev.anthro. 3 3.070203.144034 2005 by Copyright Annual Reviews. All rights reserved 0084-6570/05/1021 0159$20.00

Key Words
photography, visual anthropology, temporality, archive,

ethnography Abstract
This essay provides an overview of recent anthropological work on

the relationship between racial thought and the visual technologies of photography and film. I argue that anthropologists have moved
away from a concern with representation per se in favor of the more

complex discursive and political landscapes opened up by the con
cepts of media and the archive. My review of this work focuses on the

affective register of suspicion that has surrounded both visual meth ods and the idea of race in anthropology. Whereas this suspicion
has led some to dismiss visual technologies as inherently racializ

ing or objectifying,
as a productive site

I argue that it is possible to reclaim suspicion
for rethinking the particular forms of presence,

uncertainty, and contingency that characterize both ethnographic and visual accounts of the world. I begin by discussing recent work on the photographic archive, early fieldwork photography, and the subsequent move in the 1960s and 1970s from still photography to film and video within the emergent subfield of visual anthropology. Finally, I consider how more recent work on the problem of race in
favor of descriptive accounts of mediascapes.


of the ostensibly anthropology run its course critical account ments. Levin 1999). By focus ing on suspicion. as a reasoned. between as well as the and grounded pre an sumed homology. Deleuze 1985. 1977. that these are. I hope to shift the burden of criticism how and away from the usual the way conclusions we see the about world. another. which The was native a abstract ethnographer's thus task of meaning. Foucault 1980. about ideals of description it was reasoned. race has how shaped and writing and temporal the people anthropologists study (Clifford & Marcus Fabian 1983). in discourse. order the if race and is classificatory (or within) then and mean visible ethnography and moral of embodied the ob com sur similarly of cultural would provide in that they du or norma the same sort of descriptive plicate to tive force we have so convincingly assigned as a that is produc technology photography studies to have the discovery tive of racial ideas and orders. representation. 1994. the ethnography. more the was if concealed order 160 161 163 165 168 it.. familiar argu suggests visual the very As such. photography. to reveal. scenarios technology. this literature. thinking at were leveled easily endeavors of the past. about ing face was worlds behaviors served Thus. these claims emanated the ethno constituted NOTICING DIFFERENCE. PHOTOGRAPHY Culture at a Distance. technologies. presumed to contain. how tive the register of these languages for theorizing ference or have led to talk about and biologized identities social dif exploring race has shaped which essentialized (e. Yet others from within the discipline itself leveled the more herent inclusive to charge that modes the visualism of description racialization. Crary 1990. shaped the recent prolifer and important. 1986. left alter about vision. the world 16o Poole . 1993). Said 1978. IN THE FIELD. post-Orientalist confin INTRODUCTION Anthropological proliferated work on race and vision in recent has years in conversation ing visuality itself within alectic little native of room a Cartesian for thinking in which the directional di they other. in so doing. photography. as interpretive thropology racialism projects in have. with a yet broader visual turn in the fields of critical theory and philosophy (Brennan & Jay 1996. finding underneath of the world. Theories representation disciplines traditional culture of language. whether the capacity of both ethnography and photog raphy to unsettle our accounts of the world.posed of skin colors or ritual as behaviors was within Contents INTRODUCTION.Debord 1987. THE ARCHIVE. distancing of have pologists and other film. 171 ethnographic is distressing Al subject. interesting on ation of anthropological writing questions and film of race. at least is that. whom in ethnographic led to the reification. This charge was fueled 1986. This descriptive plentitude comes at the expense of silencing through and surface the observation beliefs. In idea of of some work Rorty scholars between anthropological race and distinctions insofar as both between vision. these to sis ques and ter tion developed led many and difference might be differently related (Benjamin 1999. Connolly 2002. as object constituted act that both through from grapher though many what perceptual and. Jay 1988. these seem in Enlightenment discovery. some by of the about critique. of In both cases. metaphysics. 1973. suspicion tended visual with to greet boundaries Michaels 1995. EXCESS AND CONTEXT. by now. Buck-Morss 1989. photography. technologies notion of race. by the parallel histories. Mitchell 1979). This review for takes this dilemma recent on the as a start as well relation and I ask affec anthro ing point as some not ship revisiting so recent race. 164 Contingency. Jay 1994.g. Although turn.

these collections offer insight into the importance of photography and other visual that technologies took place in between governmental. anthropology about countering then. as a con within diverse collections such engagement with Institutional collections ethnographic method and description. the con versations pological. the Royal Geographic Society ings in London. how visual types. anthro and administrative. tions theories of ethnicity and identity I close recent can with some reflec of visual for rethink in histories offer and Finally. Although less revealing of the specific ways in which early anthropologists looked at photography. deception photogra thus ran by anthropologists an concern with empiricist a concern for the accuracy together less academically and on coherent budgets personnel much and with agendas. In particular. richly the archive have been largely finding some the sort of or sometimes enor en they as those tions and race have shaped anthropological understandings limits of evidence. work suality as that which no been attempt done on can be seen and de all the I make that has in recent to review either race race with formation. and. and then later to avoid. years. The of these anthropologists experi uncover terests them. studies exclusively I have that considered visual of the numerous of "others" as address in terms stereo my par their images content THE ARCHIVE Much sors. or Harvard's Peabody Museum 1986) have been examined onciled disciplinary norms of evidence and evolutionary ence models of race with the peculiar (Banta& Hinsley in an attempt to temporality of the photograph. hold put with National longer equally of race. New York. like their nineteenth-century anthropologists who have predeces returned to representations. representations. Poignant 1992). at the I look more productive closely Although was early work con vi an explicitly the notion that constituted possibilities reclaiming that that visual technologies offer for the uncertainty contingency accounts of anthropological is unleashed pre potential and sual representations exploitative of on the and/or necessarily racializing more displaces characterize This indigenous subject. often that were very of the anthropologi with which photographs represented a "racial fact") to worries about the inability of pho tography to capture the intangibles of culture and social organization. inquiry. ticular of or interest misrepresentations.e. I then explore work the margins that falls self-consciously within the subfield of visual anthropology that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in reaction to this concern with the distinctive dangers and promises cal academy. media expropriation recent work discussion of the world. race encounter. The was gamut of the very which phy the greeted from (i.Rather fects review of than visual dwelling on the ordering ef in this of visual in visual cerned technologies.annualreviews. the idea of race scribed. for of the theoretical the (and political) in is particularly en al idea revealing in that it coincides with a period in which thusiastic most anthropology of pursuit fervent suspicion moved racial rejection with from order to the an Other who collected anthropologists much less studied collections the George or Eastman House in example. difference or vi not ethnography. at France's over the magnificent Library periods of were time. Institute (Pinney the Royal Anthropological The American Mu 1992. or and with logic. indigenous cisely because of the ambiguous role played by visual images in the disciplinary struggle first to identify. ongoing of ethnographic our own sequence. Rather. on what these and technologies ing visuality. Rochester. www. seum of Natural History (Jacknis 1992).. I first consider how anthropologists who both collected and made photographs in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries rec held by the Smithsonian (Scherer 1973).org An Excess ofDescription 161 . is to understand that surround the forms representa suspicion the photographic concerned der. mous counter. experience.

for example. Alvarado et al."popular" ideas of race (e. Edwards' archive than sire" tions as the (2001. the "meaning" of particular photo as was interpreted images being or of racial and "expression. asEdwards (2001. unites of "pop em understanding and "scientific" or value. With few exceptions. Poignant and not others naively point (1992). 2004). For these anthro pologists. the space photographic between the technology site of "closed observation frame ogy in which graphic flection. At the same time. 1997). By broadening the social fields through which photographs circulate and accrue "meaning" studies we find thatVictorian anthropologists tended to concentrate their efforts on collect ing photographs from India and other British colonies (Gordon 1997. andU. were nial ideologies formed elsewhere. 16) in which data was ob tained rather ernment agents had through direct observation. I looked at the circulation of anthropologi cal photographs as part of a broader visual economy inwhich images of Andean peoples were produced and circulated internationally. and Balfour exchanged (Stocking 1995. Gidley 2003). understandings ans (Prochaska 1990). An initial andmotivating much of this photographic history concerned the political involvements of anthropologists in the colonial gies of project and Not the racial surprising. Edwards (2001) on "into movement smaller. dean photography (Poole 1997). French ethnologists accumulated images of Algeri I argued for the privileged role played by photography in the crafting of a racial cian ular" common sense which. "breaks more dif of particular rial politics nation as much to the contemporary complex acts of anthropolog ical intention" (2001. technolo in these colonialism. and colonialism firsthand and shared photographs ing of over form" of anthropological a of the product led to a "privileg in the production of race. with and but the gov sundry who had through officials. 38. 133).. Blackman 1981. of images through differ sites. Bush & Mitchell 1994. own work and the anal "meanings" in favor of a focus content. Whereas used my more Foucauldian for an approach expansion of circulation to argue in the anthropological archive and the impe states methodolo owed the anthropological argues down" ferentiated that the a focus archive and archive." a re colo on the colonial periphery and the site of metropolitan interpretation" (Edwards 2001. p. of a "universalizing 7) also raises important where we locate 2002. as Such itself way acquire knowl edge (or at least scattered observations) of na tives in far-flung places. Faris 1996. archive and the analytics of practices of race away as a series of image ysis on the movement ent institutional. as an abstraction a technological the takes archive us a long the concept produced form. 29). Graham-Brown A focus on the collecting from the displaces search for 1988). anthropologists accepting the much-lauded I 2 Poole .S. An concerning the politics In my and cultural regional. outside the archive. What spondence becomes between clear the is that this corre found subject matter bodied difference (Poole 1997. of (1992. pp. gists practiced not nineteenth-century an "epistolary anthropolo ethnography" clubs" through which British anthropologists such as Tylor. of commerce the occasion to correspondence missionaries. pp. 31-32). approach to the photographic of "microintentions" rather de ques reflection p. She concludes that the informal networks and "collecting gies of anthropological research as it did to the overtly colonialist sympathies of these early practitioners of anthropology.g. content Haddon. Pinney out. p. of the as in the Grams term. As interpretations comparative methodologies and exchange practices (or "flows") through which photographs were rendered of race by the a move a visual from early as "data" emerges archive to technol studies as re in anthropology.-based anthro pologists sought images that could complete their inventory of Native American "types" (Bernardin & Graulich 2003. Pinney 1992). on nineteenth-century of colonialism in the study of racial photogra question for phy.

could be made statistical of regular evolu to tions from the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines' Protection Societies (Pinney 1992. by and comple almost plagued a certain nervous beginning ness about both the excessive detail and the temporal contingencies of the photographic prints pologist's that began once to pile up around distant the anthro armchair. the more 1880s. photographed. 1997). During the 1880s. Poignant (1992). 42). p. comfortably nature of the photograph" (Poignant 1992. Thomas Huxley's "well considered plan" to produce a photographic inventory of the races of the British Empire. to constitute photographs the facts themselves (Edward 1992. The classificatory conceit of type allowed images of individ ual bodies to be read not in reference to the place. behaviors appearances. edit and backdrops. Photographs collected for these early societies conventions often relied on such common vignette. ticular importance Of par "theory. related and." was the genre of the which to look. human however. Indeed. p.Whereas such gestures betray a felt "need for some history of anthropological been century quick to point out.annualreviews. Macintyre 1992). m suspi tonymie tography was fueled in important ways by a desire tion. also. Sekula 1989). pp. Rather. Poignant charts the subtle faultlines through which British anthropologists came to tem per their initial fascination with the evidential of humanizing. 131-55) study of the Darwinian biologist. from for It was the coherence.. or individual hu needy. An Excess ofDescription i6$ . and settings inwhich subjects were framings. as time. Not only were colonial officials reluc tant to jeopardize relations with the natives www. (Edwards 2001. however. Poignant Spencer In yet other cases. p. but rather self-contained exemplars of ideal Adolphe Bertillon's and Arthur Chervin's an thropom tion between trie methods "racial" cemented and the distinc pho "ethnological" ized racial categories with no single referent in the world. worked & MacKenzie an the of anthropology 1992). cultural detail" (2001. 2001). Edwards' (2001."transparency" or "objectivity" of pho tographs. artistic through as the portrait Royal Anthropological Institute predictions tionary. as scientific evidence was inti accu through to the forms above of exchange. the "native" subject could be made as During it were. the even concerned more rigorous standardization demanded by man being portrayed in each photograph. p. Poole (1997). By specifying uniform focal lengths. thropologists 2001. tattoos) from the rest of the individual's body (Wright 2003). 132-40. and others. Pinney (1992. the value they assigned to photographs mately mulation. on the surface of EXCESS AND CONTEXT As almost everyone who has studied the photographic print to inscribe interior frames thatwould isolate bits of ethnological or racial data (for example. they also betray an about "the frustratingly underlying . poses. thropologists the RAI's new charged with making endeavor became sense of increasingly to discipline the sorts of poses. to text. cion 149). awareness man as of if in response to infinite an increasing of hu the almost and came variety tographs (Poole 1997. anthropologists photographs as evidence were of facts that could be independently observed. Poignant 1992).. context. 144) disrupted the scientific ambitions of anthro pology. The RAI archive was founded on the basis of collec RAI: all. accuracy. 44). power of the photographic image as "facts in themselves" (Poignant 1992. not read In other by words. sought anthropologists out the distracting "noise" of con countenance and the human culture. anthropological photography has with pho the mid-nineteenth romance kind of intervention to make things [like race and culture] fully visible" (Wright 2003. which mute photographs produce ities and the the and general systemic ethnological here laws. provides one example of how "the intrusion In her study of the photographic archives at the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI). comparison. and more the an "type" photograph studied by Edwards (1990.

was proba with them. (Edwards 2001. in the final anal ysis. however. as an "excess" ley and his fellow systematizers to purge of visual their detail. expression. For camera graph at least some hands.Well tural body (Spencer 1992. threat for who held the photo the available earlier forms of human from culture. nineteenth what surface century anthropologists twentieth-century (like many of their were con underneath visual the messy untidy excess of descendants) the human. anthropologists the human. there was a gen bly better practiced on dead bodies than on the human beings he sought to capture in his portrait photography from imposing the absurd but strictures even of in those taken. he added. At the same time. Ethnological encounters as acquired a anthropologists on scrambled urgency corresponding to collect what they imagined to be the last vestiges of ev idence life. the possibility of acknowledging the (however remote) and. although photography continued to be used in anthropometry. and individualizing graphic portraiture in favor excess of photo of a too rigorous introduced contingency preference for "types" (Thurm 1893. of facilitating photography held out this anthropologi anthropol the promise ogy. thus. By the 1890s. Poignant were photographs constituted space the of photographing" the images in the Such and (p. the "off-frame. His focus was on the "human. making the visible than of people or race was about lay hid details cul vinced of both the inevitability and desire ability of evolutionary progress. Pinney 1992). Wallis 2003). wryly of this project about colonial race ity of the photograph. their to eliminate vinced that the primitives they studied were on the verge of disappearing. Tayler 1992). Both the evidentiary power and the allure of the photograph are due to our knowledge that it captures (or freezes) temporal a particular moment in time. for aes cal quest for order through the elimination of detail made plete menace or "noise. office's many Edwards archive more comments. 2002. was read by Hux beauty. against famously the dangers ethnologist cautioned of erasing Im Thurm. This intro dimension of the photograph contains duced awhole other layer of distracting detail into the anthropological science of race. Yet attempts classificatory bitions of photography fects can be located and its political ef temporal in the unique it ultimately led to failure in that the tech nology of photography was. not capable of matching the totalizing ambitions of the project." the to same machine a utopia that had of com the twin and it possible transparency of intimacy imagine also and thetic. as did the racial photography he opposed. had instructed the artists who both accompanied ersome details or that and context expeditions of gesture. by nude in the act anthropom stances where "intersubjective trie poses. Anthropometry. so of natives portraits of cranial readily structure revealed the underlying "race" might details be more in their carried (Herv Whereas 1910). From revealing den its or of buildings beginnings. expression." the "visual Thurm's excess" of context embrace and of cautious eral decline in interest in the collection and use of photographs as ethnological evidence 164 Poole . Con photographs races. coevalness the humanity of their racial subjects. It is per haps for this reason that anthropologists be gan by 1874 (with the publication o Notes and Queries) to express an interest in regulating the types and amount of visual information they would receive through photographs. before the invention of photography. a latent of those however. the As a result. Thurm (1893) himself often blocked out the distracting backgrounds and contexts surrounding his photographic subjects. Griffiths 1992. for example. Cuvier. The Dutch example." but his anthropological perception of photogra phy excluded. 145) left its mark on form of content Contingency An arguably the even more between important slippage or am stabilizing gaze.

photography speaks clearly to its suspect sta applied ile tribal to "what was perceived whereas to be the a frag tus at a time when all fieldwork was if not di rectly animated by a concern for finding racial types. in many even about goes vi be said to have harnessed the aesthetic of por trait photography as part of a broader. their power and massive popular appeal had much to do with theways inwhich he was able to dis till contemporary fascination for a technology that allows to one to gaze forever on that which is about Within disappear. interest for tem or at least ten peculiarly marked. however. amore "was more the shadow of the idea of race. and anx temporal actuality and truthfulness about the nature of the iety was in other world present perceptual clearly colonial and postcolonial settings. in this way. if we were would have to be done. 54). Poignant suggests that it was in response recapture just such a dilemma that anthropologists at the RAI came to favor studio portraits over photographs taken in the field because the clear visual displacement found in the studio portrait between the primitive subject and the world allowed the anthropologist "to impose order on people too numerous to disappear" the productive forms of suspicion with which early anthropologists greeted photography's unique capacity to reveal the particularities of moments. anthropology. The "salvage paradigm" was integrate photography into the ethnographic toolkit. the general sion between ideas of racial extinction. Pinney suggests that this tension between out in the actuality case of and India disappearance through two played photo to this we want question. What then. photographers as soft most fa mously. photographs anxieties image For one about served only to in of the pho of scientific number to the of an the utility as an instrument the sheer available to the fixing. of however. Curtis's inevitability romance of photographs and the salvage paradigm with a language of urgency and "capture" (Pinney 1997. with manifested when faced commonly as vital caste society." "detective paradigm. Edward Curtis aesthetic vignette tinction gia. might at some to looking early attempts graphic idioms. paid to recent critical attention interventions far greater porality of the moment" crease tographic research. Lyman 1982). Recent studies of early fieldwork www. Although the particular mapping of the two ways. on is." premised on a faith in the eviden tiary status of the photographic document. 45). photographs they reveal On another are about also the level." He further a curato sociates the detective with paradigm rial imperative of inventory and preservation. then at the very least carried out under community. encounters. and unresisting victims of a divinely manifest Curtis's what destiny. and individuals? PHOTOGRAPHY For to an answer begin by IN THE FIELD (1992. Yet. in evitable. the distinctive porality of the "racializing gaze. political framing of Native Americans as the sad. Put people as evolutionary theory had led them to believe. When viewed the understand race ing of that emerges from a history of an attribution (Gidley An Excess ofDescription 165 . p. and fractures and conceptual can we how the solidity fact." Although Curtis's photographs have been criticized as inauthentic for their use of costume and tribal of photography. that became thropologist primitive seemed to belie the notion that were somehow disappearing. tribal and caste society to India and peculiar Pinney so far as to that uncertainty suggest idioms sual evidence is somehow in India peculiar. In other cases. On conventions to transform into one the made skillful use of such the focus of nostal can and ex tragic level. p. this "tem thropological photography is clearly asmuch about the instability of the photograph as eth nological cion evidence and things the unshakeable are not what suspi they ap that perhaps pear to be as it is about fixing the native subject as a particular racial have type. to is usually asked about stability and fixing and instead ask how it is that photography simul taneously of "race" somewhat sediments as a visual differently. invert the question that thing.

ethnographic Argonauts. the notion participation of presence clearly and. graphies (Clifford 1988. in what mythology. Yet his careful selection of photographs seems to replicate the strict division of la of particular Indeed. thereby establishing the physical or distance" required "ecological own as authority ethnographer. greater On extent the anthropologists one hand the and archival a guilty to an even collec servation appeals to the ideal of the distanced. actment for example. were ment at which Both produced photographs to erase the image evidence was taken. The tancing was further erence for effect created reinforced the middle by such careful dis The Golden Bough in his curious photographs of Todas (Hockings 1992). In tors that challenged to objectivity.H. aerial reveal shots. race helped technological with great The ethnog regis effect. also suggests Hockings used mythical allegories that stress the extent to which pho best term captured "participant in Malinowski's observation. earliest of photography in fieldwork made every effort to erase the contingent moment of the pho bor by which he separated affective and sci entific description in his diaries and ethno 1967). matter No how distant the ever. objective vokes onlooker. 190). how con to in of photography uncanny the ability specter munication. out the extra of weeding problem contexts and contingent details cap was at once tured by the camera. and presence ethnographer's "strong photographer. a than with tions just discussed to use photography with the neous anthropologists wishing in the field were faced certain openness to the humanity of the (still racialized) other. Malinowski For example. along with contin gency. Young 1999). 157-80). Malinowski made the most abstractions. mute and singular jects. 1994. pp. contained photographs of encounter. Thus. for example. 166 Poole . and content existence events. mythical to portray photography "saw" when of they talked in a editing by Malinowski's pref to in his own long shot a photography Evans-Pritchards' similar and (Young 2001. elaborately posed photographs of him self and other colonial officials. Haddon. bodies. the it the could and also be read encounter. although vi sual description was recognized as important On the field. Mali nowski problematic seems to status signal an awareness of the of photography in the ne ceptual. tained dex the the very within presence language" to silence medium it an of of this often to sustain his for the scientific project of data collection and interpretation. Malinowski (1922. were then culture and social or organiza interpre themselves As statistical such. Whereas Rivers sought Haddon what the to place natives to use sought natives past. as documents turn. drawn from Rivers Frazer's ous. in that the subjects of anthropology (first tion) tive and race. despite having taken numer tographic act. Studies of field for photography long shots. within exchange. 18)." now Whereas famous ob tography offered pleasure. averaging one photo in his published for every seven that was quite different from whose tographs. and restaging made wide use of reen as ameans to document rituals andmyths (Edwards 2001.R. their gotiation of this contradictory charge of be ing simultaneously distant and close (Wright 1991. of com all fac claims in shot. p. documentation required perception a temporality extensive use of photographs work. The aspects of tension between these two practice is perhaps raphers ter of encounter. photography also brought the trou bling specter of intimacy. Among his British contemporaries. spoke that of pho only of the ob uses pages in his published ethnographies (Samain 1995). with in it. This problem an artifact technical of the unforgiving "re alism" of the and con image photographic In his own fieldwork photography. he seems to have carefully edited out the presence of all such nonindigenous elements when illustrat ing his books (Spyer 2001. of that concerned the mo preference a careful avoidance of eye contact Wolbert ethnographer (2001) interprets as an effort by the to erase his own presence in the other hand. p. In his Torres Straits fieldwork.

Young 2001) about the use of photography in fieldwork speak to the unsuitability of a visual medium that is about surface. they but tell of the moment rather because they alism of wax life group displays that "blended the uncanny presence of the human double with the authority of the scientific artifact" (Griffiths 2002. the physical appearance" are men and women of tall stature. systemic workings. Negroid lipped mouths. very few ofMalinowski's photographs conform to the standard racial photograph museum displays (Edwards 2001. Although such a division of labor between text and photo may well speak to the affinity of photography for the sorts of racial "typ ing" towhich Malinowski gestures in his text. facts" that (1961. Stocking 1985). Instead what seems to be at stake phy of some inMalinowski's to engage in which the people use is his inability that moment aspect of of photogra or make sense perceived Repeat threatened for scien to undermine tific observation. particularly instructive set of debates discussed by Griffiths pp. expression. savage life were suddenly realized. things" the reservations expression [and] oth erswith prognatic. it might be argued. Haraway 1989. natives are "scanned for the general impression" they create (1961. Although to attract museum goers through the hyperre (1961. Rony 1996) with which turn-of-the century even sorts anthropologists fewer of visual opportunities excess and detail the distance One experimented to control that offered for the (Young 2001. 46-84. Oksiloff 2001. and the moment of the distancing language of race.pp. 51). hold the promise that they may someday be come legible as "symptoms of deeper. the photograph also contained within it the possibility of au thenticating the presence that constituted the basis The of the ethnographer's visual scientific technologies method.1992. 20). "There fine open bearing and and intelligent delicate features . live exhibitions (Corbey 1993. p. even if only in a fleeting impression" (1961. . and the other (his own) is a medium-long shot of a group of Boyowan hand. with an hidden terious ethnographic phenomena behind the commonplace On the one aspect hand. 53). broad.. thick and a coarse An Excess ofDescription 167 and to which .. to support the women the more "have a personal genial. As a remedy. p. in which not they for what occur.Malinowski speaks of the to evade him in the form that seem insights or Hori of fleeting impressions glimpses. 3 45) concerned the visual and (2002. stituted 2001). pp. even edly in his opening descriptions of both na tives and landscapes." Through such language. of then. and film (Grimshaw 2001. 51). pp. that con (Grimshaw as a re (1922. (p. observation pleasant that approach" for a discipline whose interpretive task was to describe the hidden regularities. p. Malinowski avoided physical de scription mains rare of in individuals ethnographic something writing that re in favor expressed byMalinowski and others (Jacknis 1984. p. Ry dell 1984). 33). Karp & Levine 1990.annualreviews. and the entire Southern Massim is experi enced "as if the visions of a primeval. such as other girls (plate XII). On and structural and "society" the other regularities "culture" however. human exhibits whose would antirealist. 52). required he first he met. however. he again relies not on language but on two photographs: One (taken by his friend Hancock) he captions "a coarse but fine looking unmarried woman" (plate XI in Malinowski 1922). Similarly. Malinowski is intrigued by such impressions. Reed 2000. alist mode of documentation.. 52-53) comments on the "great variety in logical writes.Griffiths 2002. narrow faces. happy. there p.expressed con cern that these hyperrealist technologies distract Boas figures the gaze sought were of museum to create intentionally goers.. 35). are "many "One suspects." and mys he of the Trobrianders. in fact. Wright 2004. zons are "scanned for glimpses of natives" moral effects of overly realistic habitat and at the American Museum curators of Nat sought some life groups ural History. others including Franz Boas (Jacknis 1985). p. 101-2). socio the spectator's gaze would first be drawn by a central focal artifact and then www. Poignant 2003. contingency.

to pose ethnographic thinking about to create its account and both lan the work aura guage ethnography. in the mid-1960s about the viability of visual technologies work. Thus. the and descriptive practices time. seen been task than of passing. Like judi MacDougall ciary photographs as well. Whereas others have pointed toward world's fairs as sites for the propagation of nineteenth-century racial evidentiary status in court (Derrida 2002). the concern such for displays reveals the extent contemporary was with the anthropologists. ethnographers. visual particular. temporality as we seen. have instead looked to photography as a means vation. Reed 2000. ethnographic Ethnography.Maxwell 1999. (1942) taming Bateson represent visual one ex for ini evidence as recent on anthropological photography and film has made not clear. It is thismove that affords decisive sta an event as tus to the image testimony photographic in a time. the dilemma in ethnographic photography is in large part a temporal one. dentiary the together and distinctive descriptive task and the authorizing method of ethnography continue to rely in important ways on the ethnographer's physical presence photograph. bound up with the "soft" testimonial voice (or "subjectivity") of the ethnographer 1985. (Heider 1976. along with it. the persistent and perhaps Utopian belief that the aesthetic and affective appeal of the visual could be somehow brought in line with contemporary scientific ideals of objective "observation. Stoller 1992). asmuch as photographs entered as juridical evidence require a human voice to authenticate their ils that the Midway sideshows presented to the scientific claims of ethnology. considered unless visual documentation a sufficient to be is generally source of ev by the con of ethnographic and Mead tially began using photographs to supplement their notetaking and observations and to rec idence it is accompanied and/or interpretive textualizing testimony oncile their disparate writing styles (Jacknis i68 Poole . to discipline the visual an uneasy process place of obser at the ori Occupying in a particular site and her (normatively) visual observations people. have seen. Simmel 1971. Rydell 1984). At events.carefully guided items similar and display worries through a series of related cases. evocation the photograph as we a form In the subfield of visual anthropology emerged in response to this concern ethnography. Crary 1999) as a form of affect that worked against the focused visualism required for the education speak of the museum to the general goer. Griffiths uncovers obvious per about the more the ethnographer (AAA 2002). and accounts she of the and same encounters work gins of the visual anthropology canon. Worth & Adair 1997). crucial to although voice of and for photograph's context and a most limit tion. the "hard" visual evidence of ethnographic pho (Greenhalgh 1988. The ethnographer (like the ju dicial witness) must speak for the photograph as someone who was in the place shown in of distraction (Benjamin 1968. Griffiths' (2002) emphasis on the professional suspicion surrounding to which. Hockings & Omori 1988. However. Such worries sur clearly nervousness the photograph at the time when the photo graph was taken and this privileged author ity of the ethnographic witness seems to hold true no matter what the role assigned to his rounding the visual technologies of photogra phy and film within anthropology and. Loizos 1993. even inextri cably." "native" subjects (Crawford & Turton 1992. disruptive potential ist anthropology tography or film is intimately. nonrepeatable not is the photograph the photographer to it that allows for the peculiar conflation of past and Culture The at a Distance present of material that renders evidence. the 759 photographs published in Bateson & Mead's Balinese treme Character solution to ends. and often to the Rather image of an off-frame moment a debilitating interpreta how the voice evi of have has course. a of witnessing deploys language as a means to defend observation of the world. there. are Thus. however. Hockings 1997.

1988. p. which which as a form of doc umentation aspects to capture "those are least amenable with most imagery. 122).Taylor to the visual is "racial of practices (Mead & MacGregor Wliat is perhaps most 1951). sequences embraces like goes As to transform "objective" of gestures. of spontaneity no surprise the mo that the of many That lay the of narrative of early at the heart visions thropology is suggested by the fact that the subfield's first professional organization was the Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication." Metraux writes. The affective power of film. photographs. practice to In Mead & Metraux's (1953) textbook. whereas still photographs had more or less disap peared from "serious" ethnographic texts (de Heusch 1962). MacDougall notes. Rouch 2003). Edwards 1992." photography temporal subsequently argued Banks &Morphy 1994). of intimate reflex rela tainers of information indexed through lan guage." in the study of culture from comes imagery immediate experience to constitute of the "our culture" a distance. As work progressed on the ment photographie their written came index that was to comple they as an fieldnotes. In explicit contrast to photog raphy (MacDougall 1998. (Metraux 1953. by the late 1970s." a culture. is due to both its imme diacy and its nonverbal character in that (for film unlike photography and MacDougall) www. 343. images gestures. founded in 1972. In her later work on child-rearing practices. was imagined as both an expression of the perceptual system shared by the members of a society and as a surrogate allow one system have for the experience and describe. about approach intriguing Mead's Balinese work is the lengths to which she words. in this early approach 1956). photographs were meant to commu nicate the the broader message rendering portrayed.g. film was seen yond ive as a visual "observation" references technology to include the sorts that could go be explicit. that would that ious to access. come to be dominated by the study and production of ethnographic film. somewhat through later.annualreviews. pp.. "The study of . a sort of substitute for the per tionships and exchanges that bound the film maker to his "subjects" (MacDougall 1985. Sullivan 1999). 64. p. As con field of visual anthropology had. "is an intensely per sonal and yet a rigorously formal approach to "every Although or lesser extent is to a greater cultural built analysis work upon quickly to see independent control on the potential biases of visual observation (Sullivan 1999. or of the supple in an at sequences perceptual authors "culture. first. Mead extended this understanding mental tempt to character replicate of precise ogy." construct their meaning tographs as "raw mate tive. they lurking behind person. or surface of the event.What is lost in such an approach is the immediacy of sight as a sensory experience that could speak to add up "child-rearing. photography. information of visual an had done to divorce still photography from both ment. photographs. As var ( An Excess ofDescription 169 sonal experience of fieldwork.Mead age. imagery. The Study of Culture at a Distance. and expressions. Given what Mead's own Balinese work films are scrutinized they ex configuration outcome) encounters. they rather about in the narrative the sequence different ideas message (and presumed events and and they convey "character" the ethnographic intangibles of presence and newness (Edwards 1997). The anthropol im of the culture to visual to verbal treatment and which can only be properly documented by photographic meth ods" (Bateson & Mead 1942. thus remain Photographs rial" or "facts" whose lies not in the "meaning" detail but reveal of particular encounters. film. affect and the it is perhaps. however. then. this 1997. and imagery were held up as privileged sites for communicating a feeling of cultural immersion.68). p. Instead. 16) and then. that together or into photographs traces of the temporal poses. to something the pho as a narra ized" both in the sense of a subject/object divide and in the idea that there is an in ner "meaning" hidden beneath the surface of both culture and the image. for clues to the cultural press.

" lar form of subaltern unites work on is the of concept a particu the no claim.the forms ward of "visual communication" put by analysis for or (Turner 1992. Worth & Adair 1997). In many cases. in advertently) destabilized earlier assumptions and hence about the necessarily objectifying .Himpele 2004. tializing dichotomies that characterized New World slave societies and European colonial rule. these studies of indigenous video production consumption (Ginsburg 1992. a gloss As "indigenous. identities the media national. For some it has functioned as an effective form for critically rethinking (Ginsberg 1992) or even rejecting (Faris 2003) the possibilities of recuperating photography and film within respect to the specific anthropology. given local subfield of visual anthropology. the surprise (and. Povinelli 2002. Animated manism.What indigenous the media. scathed from the charges of objectification. however. and a shift in anthro pological focus from vision itself to the dis tributive channels and discursive regimes of ism within neoliberal multicultural discourse (Hale 2002. the resulting disciplinary multaneously shaped by it (Alexander 1998. Himpele 1996) and the cul tural idioms through which indigenous pro ducers and artists appropriate filmic mediums i jo Poole and film have effectively (and. provide defense. to bear within that was and denied dis considered identity affective transparency as a "frozen" photography hence tanced image. By introducing questions of voice and per spective. 2002a. Turner 1992. 61-62).b). With problem of race. More specifically. form itself. much media ends up indigenous media and the archive (Ginsburg et al. Rose 1999). By ignoring the broader political and discursive landscape indigenous" the literature within which emerge on such as "the categories of and take hold. p. Turner 1992. and authenticity. video outlet and for other the visual media communication. I think. of that cultural.Ginsburg all the more on peculiar and authenticity 2002). this view of film by a profound hu as universal or "tran tion of the indigenous invokes ideals of local ity.Ginsburg 1995. has of tended image to work focus on on indigenous the and social me rela defending an essentialist or primordial notion of identity that comes perilously close to older ideas of racial essences. for by Mead is not mediated writing in other it an to (MacDougall words. 2002). Himpele much of though not all scale of this identity through such is a mapping that "the mass sensitivity also to both history and politics has an activist to establish helped agenda to be seen in which has come ethnography as and critical. an and eth tran are si strengthening nic scend. collaborative. cultural specificity. As the new disciplinary paradigm for vi sual dia tions anthropology. the notion of the in scultural" (MacDougall 1998) seemed likely to transcend the forms of racial objectification and the objectifying "conventions of scientific reason" that many considered inherent to the stillness of photography. 2002 a). Few anthropologists today would be at all surprised by the claim that the anthro pological project has had a troubling complic ity with the racializing discourses and essen 1998. however. 1996. perhaps. 11. This view of film provided from which visual anthropologists digenous has functioned primarily as a frame the grounds set out to for into tions reinterpreting how are racial perceived of "the video categories and contents and countered for insight representa from the To counter the anticolonial critique of the 1980s. 1996). an effective handing-over of the tools of visual documentation to the "na seem placed tive" subject (Ginsburg 1992. simultaneously interventionist. pp. Jackson In this work. Film. within the media" is said to "obliterate identity" while the more portable forms of handheld "video tends to rediscover identity and consolidate it" (Dowmunt Such claims the premium 1993. and colonialism levied against it in the 1980s. it led to new paradigms of collaborative media production (Rouch 2003). and as or thus they preexist. dismay) of anthropology has emerged largely un perspective represented" (Alexander many. was 1985. Underlying Ginsburg 1995. racialism.

What has been sacrificed in this move forms of is an attention and intimacy to the unsettling that con contingency tography (Behrend 2003. 2003) is to reclaim or. or the fluidity of photographic "meaning.g. tographic or the creative surface reworkings in postcolonial of the pho pho portrait of (racial) essentialization and (visualist) dis tancing leveled against anthropology by the Orientalist critique. the world. Jhala 1993. Fusco 2003. aswell as liabilities) of the ethnographic encounter." If "race" still haunts the photo In "The Lived Experience of the Black." Fanon (2001) opens by recounting the ef fects Negro" What of an utterance. appears to him in that gaze. of recent still photographic on work pho tions.This brief moment before "the fragments [of the self] are put to gether by another" where constitutes.2002. Buckley 1999. struggle recount is extraordinary about Fanon's of this very is his em ing experience ordinary on that and very brief. as a po tentially destabilizing site of encounter within the photographic frame (Lutz & Collins 1993). underscores the importance of placing history www. Fanon to this also of such allegedly "translocal" (Ferguson & Gupta 2002) sites as the modern state. and the internet (Abu-Lughod 1993. back a creeping lightness "liberating me gives me that I had thought lost and. or character Thus. Mirzoeff 2003. Sprague 1978). Various what Fanon's this sense schol of be of Yet as the terrain of anthropological inquiry has expanded beyond the traditional village. evidence and discursive collecting regimes. by removing me from But other ments. autonomy NOTICING DIFFERENCE agency for the photograph in the form of either resis tance.annualreviews. Although emphases in these works differ and I cannot do justice to them all here the general trend (with some excep stitute the subversive hallmarks (and hence potential strengths. ment when the onlooker's gaze has not yet set labeling to inhabit "Look. (Firstenberg 2003. p.racializing technologies. encounter the is so site of betrayal quickly rendered into the paralyzing fixity the certain ars have trayal meanings emphasized about of race. non-governmental organiza the An Excess ofDescription iji .. right when and the reaching his move though the other fixes me. mobility. in ethno tography tends to emphasize unstable quality of the the "slippery" racial referent graphic work has shifted away from the af fective toward or sensory domain of and encounter synthetic and mode of tech a more removed As such.. me dia. a chance for Fanon. tions. or tribe to embrace the study reveals understanding theweight of history particular gesture on toward the past. Faris some sort of 1992. over there. on his a the world. the importance (Howell of gazes 1998." of as "the One just like a dye is used to fix a chemical solu tion" (Fanon 2001. and the colonial past in In addition however. the financial burden of flows. it does so in the form of an increasingly ghostly presence. anthropologists have extended the paradigm of indigenous media to explore how national identities are shaped by televi sion. migration. attitudes and gaze. Poole 1997). 184). the handover nologies and the shift to the translocal do not so much address as circumvent the charges cultural and social contexts Kravitz 2002). Rajagopal 2001). gives back I was to the world. visual anthropology from the local to the na tional or even the transnational the as the focus of shifts from analysis the relationships pass tute the production mercial and itself to encom image that inform and consti of com side. Pinney 1997. a graph. cinema. and distribution media. Hope moment over my when body the . community. I stumble. televisualist troubling side effect of these devel opments within the visual anthropology of both photography and film as in the disci pline from more what generally we once has thought been a move away local. perhaps. e. These works effectively expand the scale of Other tled on his body. Mankekar 1999. the highly mobile meanings attached to pho tographs as they circulate through different of description.. mo phasis particular.

"fix" technologies. description) by which the as a process extraneous photography. An anthropology focused on defining horizontally differentiated forms of life through the language of "race" (or "culture") affords conflicting evidential (or juridical) weight to the different temporali ties involved in the fleeting immediacy of the encounter the fact. one wonders how anthropologists will address this disci plinary anxiety about surface appearances and ductive grounds for rethinking the temporal ity of the ethnographic encounter and the like the visible world. a questioning of its stability as an object of inquiry and a new way of thinking about the temporality of encounter as it shapes both ethnography and it. p. 179). For Fanon. of the world the surface appearances photographic a good they images deal are seen of as that suspicion and the of to ate bodily habits of distancing (Alcoff 2001). Fanon's rality of the insistence gaze the fleeting as a site of ethical on tempo possi other. Fanon insists (in this and other writings) on sual the extent to which (cinema.. for interpretation and expla practice of ethnography. with thinking of the notion of difference itself (e. his sense of the gaze is rooted and in equal parts in the im with embodied.When dressed the visual in these terms. Perhaps what is needed is a re worked century. (and. On the other hand. Fanon's of race insistence offers underpinnings ad on pro of racial and cultural hybridity.g. Deleuze 1994. resonates in their skins quite subjects on clearly with the emphasis in somuch of visual anthropology the classificatory impulses of regard and the them cisely with record pre racial and anthropological photography. of have the twen revealed. not that that "the universal detail or noise of vision was to be disciplined and rendered intelligible. In of chance portant insight into the workings of the gaze. mediacy which of this sensory. permanency stabilizing as a result." this sense challenge. encounter bility offers several important leads for how to rethink the place of visual technologies and visual perception more generally in the the possibilities nation. of course. chemical qualities through which photo graphic racial like the racial gaze. This emphasis on distance and on the phys ical. bring with inevitably is perhaps what lost in is the immediacy of encounter both newness and "the toward perhaps. On the one hand. or whether hybridity the native and Indian before it will come to be treated as another or (racial) as "fact" if that must under be uncovered ways inwhich photographic technologies may need to be rethought in conversation with that particular As we tieth understanding seen for much have anthropologists of encounter. the gaze is as much about undo this respect. without is to reclaim abandoning which precedes it" (p. Fanon also provides im with because the contingency saturated being encounters. This is achieved through both "the endless recreation of himself is the end and of a realization struggle. around a dichotomy like seeing was the fleeting pretation strued inwhich photography to the domain whereas was of inter con relegated and the contingent.and the past in the service of an "active inflec tion of the now" (Bernasconi 2001. technologies and vi perceptual cre in particular) The relationship of photography to this task depends on how we think about its pe culiar temporality. be continues in that to be haunted the photograph as a form of evi ing the corporeal frame as it is about fixing (Bernasconi 2001. While an interpre tive move must. lying neath the deceptive surface of the visible world (Fusco 2003). ethnography's relationship to the photographic by the specter can only really image of race. 178). As anthropology turns its attention to forms ary distancing of which he speaks. it a reduction this as an transition opening The of of noise. and along with this emphasis on distance. Connolly 2002). encounter opening future-oriented and slips the into rapidity the exclusion imagined over dence inwhich fixity (in the form of simplic ity or focus) is favored excess (in the form of contingency or confusion) (Edwards 1997). Weate 2003). As such. 172 Poole . however. tend Ethnographers.

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