Re: What's a picture?

Frank Schaap (
Mon, 07 Oct 1996 12:18:17 GMT (Matt Silberstein) wrote:

>In sci.anthropology (Robert Long) wrote:

>>Somewhere I know I have read about someone who took a camera with him
>>in visiting a so-called primative culture (in Africa??) that had never
>>before been exposed to photography. When he showed pictures of their
>>friends and themselves to the people who lived there, he discovered
>>that they had no idea how to look at pictures and couldn't recognize
>>even familiar people and objects in the prints. They had to be taught
>>how to see flat pictures as a respresentation of three-dimensional

>>I need to cite this experience in a book I'm working on but can no
>>longer find the reference. Who wrote it--C.G. Jung? Edwin Land?
>>Beaumont Newhall? I have no recollection. I've been told that this
>>experience is included in a course taught at NYU, but I've been unable
>>to learn which one. How does one research such a question on the

>I had an anthro teach say this about some New Guinea group. But it
>always sounded a little fishy to me. And I never saw it in a book, on
>heard it in the lecture.

>Matt Silberstein

There is mention in books actually. My first encounter with it was in an
article by Terence Wright _Photography: Theories of Realism and
Convention_, which appeared in a rather interesting and very good book
edited by Elizbeth Edwards, _Anthropology and Photography, 1860-1920_, Yale
University Press, 1992.

The actual quote in Wright's article is from Sekula, and reads as follows:

The anthropologist Melville Herskovits shows a Bush woman a snap-shot of
her son. She is unable to recognise the image until the details of the
photograph are pointed out.... The Bush woman 'learns to read' after
learning first that a 'reading' is the appropriate outcome of contemplating
a piece of glossy paper. Photographic 'literacy' is learned.
(Sekula, Allan 1984, 'On the invention of photographic meaning' (1974) in
_Photography against the grain 3-21._ Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia
College of Arts and Design.

Ah, Nova Scotia... that's were Robert Frank lives (is he still alive? i
believe so). Go run out and get your hands on his book _The lines of my
hand_. Photographs... photographs no words can describe, yet they have
words all over them :)

Oh, (yes i know... i tend to ramble) Wright's article is, among other
things, a critical comment on Sekula/Herskovits' interpretation of this
event as that the Bush woman didn't know 'how' to read the photograph.

Hope to have been of some help and sorry for the delay... it seems my
newsserver has a crappy update policy, so i hope this will reach you fairly
soon :)

Frank Schaap

"But I tried to make to make sure that they understood the difference
between fiction and history - difficult, as I wasn't certain that
there was a difference. Then I had to explain that a fairy tale was
still a different sort, one step farther along the spectrum from fact
to fancy." (Robert A. Heinlein, Time enough for love)
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