Re: Reading images

wilkr (wilkr@INDIANA.EDU)
Thu, 4 Jan 1996 11:12:38 -0500

My favorite anecdote on this problem comes from Turnbull's "The Lonely
African" where he recounts taking Mbuti forest people out to the savannah
for the first time in their lives. They thought the rhinos on the horizon
were ants, because they had never seen anything at such a distance before.

But the important point is that once people learn to see a photo, or
perspective, they can see it and interpret it quite the way we do.
Similarly, maps at first can be a terrible problem for those who have
never worked with them (and judging from my experience doing
archaeological surveys, they can remain quite a problem even for people
who use them every day!) - but most people of whatever culture are quite
capable of learning how to read one, and then can make their own (see the
wonderful "Geomatics" issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly on native
mapping projects in the Americas for eg.).

A non-anthropological book on photography, images, and native South
American people is Will Baker's "Backwards" - a very creative discussion of
what happened when, as a photographer, he travelled around the Ashaninka
(sp?) region taking polaroids. The pictures quickly became tokens of
power in dealing with government officials, who did not treat Indians as
individuals (or even people) until they had a photo of themselves for an
identity card. I like the idea of studying the way photography has been
used by states and print media as means of definition, category creation,
boundary maintenance, and control (Baker talks about ther way photography
creates and regulates time and temporal flow) - of course, now that I
think of it, this is exactly the thrust of Bourdieu's work on photography!

Happy New Year,

Rick Wilk

Richard Wilk Anthropology Dept.
812-855-8162 (voice) Indiana University
812-855-4358 (fax) Bloomington, IN 47405