In the years since we took the pictures, "visual anthropology" has become a named sub-discipline of the broader field of anthropology. Many new approaches to visual materials have been developed. Thus we have a number of analytic tools at our disposal.
To begin with, we can examine the cataloguing methods we used in the field and further developed while archiving our 16mm. footage. At that time, we divided the on-going flow of experience and the resulting visual corpus in terms of "film events," breaking into the linear nature of the strips of frames on the 242 contact sheets, to re-evoke the rhythms of that fieldwork experience. Going over the photographs and catalogue now, memory contextualizes each image both in terms of our "total Maring experience" and in terms of all of our subsequent training and experience in looking at images. Thus, our understanding of the images is shifted from the linear to the cumulative.
We can look at the photographic collection from the point of view of the "shooting strategies" we were using, strategies which, while we were in the field, were not clearly articulated, but were later clarified and discussed in one article written by Allison and another co-authored with E. Richard Sorenson in 1972. The three major "shooting strategies" we identified at that time are opportunistic sampling, programmed sampling, and digressive search.
Lessons learned from John Collier, Jr., some of whose courses we were privileged to audit in San Francisco in the 1980's, are valuable. He trained his students to proceed in clearly defined "Stages of Photographic Recording." His ideal visual ethnographer starts from an initial overview and gradually chooses to concentrate on certain specific details, always working from the more general and public facets of a society to the more particular and private. Collier also emphasized the necessity of sitting down with local people to look at the photographs in order to grasp their understanding of the phenomena which had been photographed.
Richard Chalfen's research on family photograph albums brings out the necessity of paying attention not only to what is visible in the image, i.e. what was going on in front of the camera when the photograph was snapped, but also to what was going on in the remainder of the total, 360 degrees environment, i.e., what is NOT visible in the image but would have been visible to people present at the event. In addition, he emphasizes the importance of all the other "invisible" components of the event, i.e. what was going on in the minds of the cameraperson and other participants.
Further insights can be obtained if we apply proxemics, an approach developed by Edward T. Hall. Proxemics draws our attention to the various interpersonal distances people use in their interactions in differing social and cultural contexts. Space can be considered to be both social and optical: people take up locations near or far from each other in terms of their social identities. In a pre-photographic society, such as the Maring society was in 1963-1964, these locations were never determined by photographic reasons, eg. the need to fill the frame "appropriately," the need to include all "appropriate" participants, the need to be able to see and record clearly the main activity (as culturally defined), etc. Once the practice of photography becomes part of a society, such photographic considerations will become interwined with other social considerations of how close one can appropriately be to another person.
What distances did we use while photographing? Among the Maring in 1963-1964, we were living in a particular historic moment: we, the anthropologists, had to navigate two proxemic realities: our own, which included photographic considerations; and the Maring's, which was innocent of photographic considerations. The Maring had, as yet, no sense of "proper photographic distances" (as defined in the practices of societies where picture-taking is common), but included our behavior, whether or not we were using cameras, into their own proxemic system.
We, on the other hand, often used cameras to get nearer to people than we would have felt comfortable doing in our own culture. We have also recently been given a reference to Barrett's book ("How to Critique Photographs?"). Its title reminded us that we can and must eventually deal with photographic aesthetics in some articulated fashion.
Using these different approaches to looking at images is a way of "giving voice" to the photographs. Each approach will be found in several of the Visual Research Exercises. Without these methods, the photographs would be trapped in cultural stereotype and personal memory only.
Last modified on March 17, 1999
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