Photographs As a Field Location

It is now July 16, 1996. Marek and I are sitting at our kitchen table in Italy. It is 8:21 in the evening, and the summer light is just beginning to fade. I have brought out the first folder of contact sheets and the accompanying field index.

Thus, we are "faced with the evidence" of our stay among the Maring and with the question of what is to be said about these photographs now, thirty three years later?

I notice that I still acutely feel the tension between the overwhelming detail and particularity of lived life and the analytic catagories needed to shape any analysis or representation of an ethnographic nature. I was caught in the midst of this disciplinary dilemma (or is it simply an existential given) when I was actually in the field. Caught, drowned, even overwhelmed.

Now I find I am still caught, but more lightly.

To begin with, photos are so palpably only a representation of the field,
that they do not compare in their power to overwhelm.

They are silent.

They do not demand response.

They can be packed away in their manila envelopes
and put in a drawer in a way that on-going, surrounding life never can be.

Furthermore, in the intervening years, I have learned a number of things about working with photographs, techniques of looking/thinking which allow me simultaneously to distance myself personally while bringing to awareness observations which, previously, had remained at an unconscious level.

Observations emerge from and into the light of a disciplinary discourse, or, as one might say with today's vocabulary, the observations and the disciplinary discourse are mutually constitutive.


Last modified on March 18, 1999


    Copyright 1999-2011 Allison Jablonko. All Rights Reserved.