01 February 2009

Visual Anthropology

Image of Karl G. Heider, professor of ethnographic studies at Harvard

Notes from a reading of Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method by John and Malcolm Collier, 1986.

Man has always used images to give form to his concepts of reality (8).

Jacob Riis turned to the camera to present slum conditions in New York City [...] These early records of "urban anthropology" helped establish the first building codes and apartment regulations. [...] [T]he sociologist, Lewis Hine recorded the entry of immigrants through Ellis Island [...and he] also turned the camera to children, and his images were influential in passing the first child labor laws (data from Beaumont Newhall's 1949 book "The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day"). (9)

The nonverbal language of photorealism is a language that is most understood interculturally and cross culturally (9).

Photography is an abstracting process of observation but very different from the fieldworker's inscribed notebook where information is preserved in literate code. Photography also gathers selective information, but the information is specific, with qualifying and contextual relationships that are usually missing from codified written notes. Photographs are precise records of material reality (10).

Seeing the stranger as he "really" is, in ethnography as in all human relations, too often becomes a casualty of our personal values and incomplete observation. Social scientists appreciate that there is little we can see that is truly free from bias or personal projection (10).

Bridges of communication, established by the visual medium, can offer him rewarding collaborations within the field of study (24).

Visual anthropology is the search for cultural patterns (35).

Both art and science face the challenge of abstracting new insights and experience from the visible shape of reality. This creative process goes beyond documentation, for discovery is an act of creation, and reality must pass through an alchemy in which the documentary record becomes new knowledge that creates a new reality. Such creation is a the core of scientific discovery just as it is at the core of art. Just as a fine artist leads us to see things in new perspective, so Einstein led scientists to see a new reality in time and space (169).

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