recognition of photos

Thomas Mennicken (mennicke@MAILER.UNI-MARBURG.DE)
Mon, 24 Jul 1995 19:35:59 +0200

Dear folks

Please don't worry, my question may seem a bit uninformed at the first
glance, but I feel losing my face by finding myself unable to help a friend
with a simple advice of anthropological concern. He is writing his master
degree thesis in philosophy about a semiological theory of photography. As
he gave me his script for lecturing, I found, that he has cited Nigel Barley
as a source for the anthropological proposition, that in traditional
cultures the people were spontaneously unable to recognize anything at
photos. Nigel Barley describes in a satirical manner, that he showed photos
of cattle and pigs or something like this to the Dowayos, the people of the
african tribe, which he was scrutinizing. But they are totally uninterested
in these pictures, because they mean nothing to them. They can't see
anything familiar. No cattle, no pigs, or whatsoever. I told my friend, who
is actually sitting at the northwestern coast of ireland in a small shack,
which he has rented there to write his thesis in an undisturbed way, and his
only link to civilisation is the telephone-line (which he is curiously
enough not using for voice conversation, but only to exchange fax messages
by means of his notebook computer). But nevertheless, his project is
convincing me and so I have decided to tell him, that Nigel Barleys
informations should not be taken too seriously. But now, he replied to me,
that it is substantial for him to get to know, whether traditional cultures
are able to recognize objects in photos or not. So now, I am stuck in the
dilemma, not to know, whether Nigel Barleys anecdote about the
non-photo-recognizing Dowayo is a joke or not. Is this a anthropological
myth, a running joke or is there some truth about it? Now, if someone finds
some time to give a short statement about this matter, it would be 1) funny
and 2) I could help my friend and save his thesis.

Kind regards

Thomas Mennicken
Department of Anthropology, Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany