Anthropology, photography and racism
(via Vizuális Antropológia.lap.hu) A critical article by Patrick Harries, University of Cape Town, dealing with the history of visual anthropology in South Africa. "Many early practitioners thought photographs reflected reality in an objective and unbiased manner", he writes. But this was a far too idealistic view as he shows.
"One of the major reasons for undertaking extensive anthropological studies in Africa, according Junod (one of the earlier anthropologists), was to provide Europeans with a picture of their own prehistoric, primitive past. The view that Europe's past could be found in Africa's present drove Henri-Alexandre Junod to produce a form of salvage anthropology that uncoupled "traditional" society from any form of change.
Although almost 100,000 workers drawn from southern Mozambique were employed in the mines, farms, plantations and ports of South Africa by the turn of the century, not one photograph of a migrant worker appeared in his anthropological monographs."
He not only influenced the way Europeans looked at Africans but also local people's identity:
Towards the end of the 19th century, the linguistic and anthropological work of Junod and his colleagues played an important part in the creation of Thonga (or Tsonga) ethnicity and race consciousness. Early photographs helped create this identity by presenting people as objects to be classified according to racial and ethnic taxonomies. Photos of "native salt manufacture" or "consulting the bones" turned individual behavior into general roles while "the Thonga hut," "Thonga carvings" or "Thonga warriors" transformed individual creations into tribal types.
>> read the whole text (website removed, link updated with copy)
PS: This paper was presented at the conference "Encounters with Photography - Photographing people in southern Africa, 1860 to 1999 in Capetown. All the papers can be read on the conference website (website removed, link updated with copy)
Book review: Colonial Photography and Exhibitions: Representations of the 'Native' and the Making of European Identities. - Review (Australian Journal of Anthropology, The, April, 2001 / findarticles.com) Link updated with copy