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Journal Articles Visual Anthropology Review Year : 2019

More than Corpses, Less than Ghosts: A Visual Theory of Culture in Early Ethnographic Photography

Abstract

In its intent to make “culture” visible through the objective depiction of specific scenes of indigenous life, ethnographic photography at the turn of the twentieth century could be understood against two other scientific uses of the camera at that time: the anatomic photographs of physical anthropologists, on the one hand, and the ghost photographs of spiritualist circles, on the other. Indeed, while capturing “culture” involved having more than still bodies appear on the picture, which implied elaborate apparatuses meant to make it happen in front of the camera lens, early ethnographers were anxious not to let too much appear either, as “culture” was supposed to manifest itself more subtly than the ghosts revealed through spirit photography. This article thus argues that photographing “culture” at the turn of the twentieth century meant getting its invisibility right; it describes some of the devices and operations early ethnographers used to make it appear objectively.
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hal-04464832 , version 1 (19-02-2024)

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Grégory Delaplace. More than Corpses, Less than Ghosts: A Visual Theory of Culture in Early Ethnographic Photography. Visual Anthropology Review, 2019, 35 (1), pp.37-49. ⟨10.1111/var.12177⟩. ⟨hal-04464832⟩
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