Early visual anthropologists produced a form of salvage anthropology that uncoupled "traditional" society from any form of change, Patrick Harries (University of Cape Town), writes in an article on the the history of visual anthropology in South Africa. Although almost 100,000 workers from southern Mozambique were employed, not one photograph of a migrant worker appeared in anthropological monographs.
Kerim Friedman tells a similar story on Savage Minds. It's about Edward S. Curtis' huge collections of photographs, now digitalised by the Library of Congress.
Friedman quotes Pedro Ponce's text on Curtis:
"In order to portray traditional customs and dress, Curtis — using techniques accepted by many anthropologists of his day — removed modern clothes and other signs of contemporary life from his pictures. A portrait of a Piegan lodge, for example, originally showed an alarm clock between two seated men. Curtis cut the clock out of the negative and included the retouched image in The North American Indian."
In a comment, Nancy Leclerc writes about consequences for Indians today:
"Several anthropologists pointed out that the negative judgements of white settlers toward Aboriginals largely stemmed from their perception that members of the latter group were not living up to the ideals of the past, a past that was largely romanticised."
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Salvage Anthropology, photography and racism