Re: Photographs Reading Us?

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Mon, 8 Jan 1996 14:09:23 -0700

On Sat, 6 Jan 1996, Matthew Hill wrote:

> On Sat, 6 Jan 1996, stacey a ayeh wrote:
> >
> > Why do so many people the world over, feel very moved when they see images
> > of the wild, sun sets, mountains - Is it to do with collective memory and
> > perhaps the wish to go back to a forgotten paradise?
> >
> Query - Is this indeed true of people from non-western backgrounds? I
> have frequently read that this reaction is a product of the western
> romantic movement of the last couple of centuries.
> In my own incidental observations in a couple of West African
> cultures there was no particular interest and sometimes a bit of bafflement
> about what I found so absorbing in such phenomena. I must admit, of course,
> that that reaction is not unusual in 'western' folk.
> Matthew Hill (
On my first fieldwork in a Mexican village in Tlaxcala, I attempted to
make my enclosed dirt patio a bit more attractive by transplanting
local wildflowers into it. The local people thought I was a bit daft,
since the mark of a truly *civilized* person is to maintain the vicinity
of the house 'limpiecito' (clean as a whistle). Essentially, this means
to remove all extraneous objects, to the point of sweeping the dooryard
daily with a broom. Adornment is through potted plants, or even garden
statuary, but one does _not_ plant in the ground. I suspect this is a
result of Spanish ideas, very different from Northwest European (which
romanticizes the wild and pristine), which stressed the ordered, urban built
environment as the epitome of civilization and sophistication. Their
ideal was to distance oneself from nature and to wall it out of their

On the other hand, when I did fieldwork on the Llanos Orientales, of
Anzoategui state, eastern Venezuela, a number of my informants delighted
in commenting on how _beautiful_ the uninterrupted vistas were across the
open Llanos (it reminded me of the South Dakota prairies).

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

There are people who will help you get your basket
on your head because they want to see what is in it.
-- African proverb