What anthropologists and artists have in common
In the new issue of American Ethnography, we’ll find these words by anthropologist Martin Hoyem:
Artists, like ethnographers, train their eyes to see things other people don’t see. They try to present what they see so that we, the audience, can glimpse something where we have looked a thousand times and failed to find anything noteworthy.
“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed,” wrote William Burroughs, in his 1992 Painting & Guns. (…) “An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it ‘creative observation’. Creative viewing.”
Anthropologists as creative viewers? Sounds good! The January issue includes two articles on the similarities and differences between artists and social scientists. In his article on Robert Frank’s famous photo book “The Americans”, Hoyem quotes anthropology professor Jay Ruby who wrote:
“Frank’s The Americans is a fundamental text. While he did behave like a field worker he knew nothing about ethnography. His contribution to photography was the virtual invention of a photographic narrative. Few have been able to equal it and in many ways it should be a model for ethnographic photographers to follow.”
>> Howard Becker: “Photography and Sociology” (republished from Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication, 1974).