chapter  10
John Layard long Malakula 1914–1915: The Potency of
ByField Photography
Pages 24

This chapter focuses on a remarkable collection of 450 photographs taken by the Cambridge anthropologist John Layard in the Small Islands off Northeast Malakula in Vanuatu between 1914 and 1915.1 The images are a product of one of the earliest periods of intensive fieldwork undertaken within the nascent discipline of British social anthropology. Prolonged fieldwork by a trained solitary researcher became the prime means by which to elicit and collect crucial ethnographic data. However, Layard’s photographs clearly demonstrate that this was more than just an extractive process determined by the interests of the researcher. Whilst Layard’s images depict significant aspects of the social lives, physical setting and ritual activities of the Small Islanders, they are not merely a product of fieldwork. Rather they are part of the process of fieldwork, summoned into existence by the complex intersubjective relations between Layard and his local informants and hosts. As a crucial site of interaction, photography played an active role in the registered events. A close investigation of the sequence of Layard’s numbered glass plate negatives, in conjunction with his writings, reveals much about the content and context of their production – the personal relations that developed between the researcher and his native assistants, the conflation of anthropological and local interests in megalithic display, the unfolding of ceremonial activities, and the agency of Atchin Islanders (Geismar and Herle 2009).