Judith Beyer wrote:
Photography and Ethnography
Since its invention in 1839, photography has regularly been used in anthropology
in a variety of ways and with changing intentions; but the discipline’s handling of the
medium has still not reached full maturity. Anthropology still remains first and
foremost a science of words (Mead 1975).....Pictures are simply used as aids in presentations, or in publications merely as »support« for academic texts...... anthropologists were indeed interested in the visual, but had no idea what to do with it (MacDougall 2006)....photography has remained a blind spot for anthropology (Barbara Wolbert)....anthropologists are concerned to keep the origins of their texts, their local fieldwork, and their relationships with the local population away from the public (Wolbert 1998).
This is a very important OAC-section! But, I think there is a further point: the objectivity of photographs in the scientific sense.
Example: I studied something in the domain of ethnology which conventionally had been verbally characterised in the framework of religion by missionaries worldwide over centuries: primitively made "fetishes" interpreted as "primitive religion".
Instead of exclusively asking the local people what they think about these objects, I rather used photography and technical drawings to represent the materials in my books on this topic. The result: these constructions made with flexible plant materials (or "semantic architecture", as they are called in the system of "architectural anthropology") are highly complex in their functions as territorio-legal archives of the local hegemony of the settlement founder house (they are cyclically renewed, maybe over hundreds of years!). They also can be understood as an elementary type of aesthetics which served as a model for cognition of natural forms and for the aesthetic creation of material culture. They can also be understood as the stimulus for a cyclic time consciousness, for the origins of ritual activity (renewal of demarcation). Evidently the technical 'primitivism' hints to a high age of the tradition: I consider these traditions still widespread in Japanese villages as the "creators" of sedentary life, agrarian production and traditional village culture. "Religion" then might have been produced by the cultural efficiency of the artful object and its implications regarding the spatial organisation of neolithic settlements.
My most extended study of 100 villages in central Japan (Omihachiman region, Shiga prefecture) is full of photographs (and drawings) that is: visual documentation! The visual documentation was consciously used as a contrast to the "spiritual" interpretation of the missionaries educated in Eurocentric "metaphysics". One of the important aspects of this study is to show that the incapacity of Euro/Western Humanities to create an objective science of continuity between history and prehistory created an absolutely non-scientific value system ('urban-rural dichotomy, or 1st/3rd world) which dramatically influences our ways to organise things on the global level. in this framework 'textual interpretation versus visual documentation gains great importance in regard to a potential gain of scientific objectivity.
In case somebody is interested:
Nold Egenter: Semantic and Symbolic Architecture. An architectural-ethnological survey into 100 villages of central Japan. 250 p., over 1000 ill., ISBN: 3-905451-02-6 / Structura Mundi, Lausanne, 1995
(CHF 80.- / 67.-US$ s'mail incl.) [30%+mail]