ABSTRACT

The role of photography and film in the history of anthropology and the development of fieldwork methods has been an important area of recent research. In particular it has been argued that whereas visual methods were of methodological and analytical importance to the Cambridge group in their 1898 expedition to the Torres Strait (Edwards 2001: 161), photography’s evidential role became increasingly less relevant to the sort of social anthropology promoted by Malinowski at the London School of Economics from the 1920s. With a new focus upon social institutions, visual methods were considered as being a tool of the “old anthropology” where surface and appearance were presumed to be privileged over depth, form over function, whereas the new anthropology sought to uncover the hidden rules behind human social organization, something not necessarily conceived of as being photographable. This sort of intellectual reorientation is revealingly demonstrated by a cross-section through the field archive of E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1902-1973) at the Pitt Rivers Museum, where an initial concern with the visual cataloguing of physical type and cultural traits (produced for his supervisor C.G. Seligman’s ethnographic survey) suddenly gives way to a less shallow focal plane and more generalized frame of reference when he reaches his own field site among the Azande. Grimshaw has characterized this shift as a ‘particular way of seeing animating the Malinowskian project which renders the camera, and other scientific instrumentation obsolete’ (2001: 54). Not quite obsolete: Evans-Pritchard took around 2,600 photographs during his fieldwork, probably more than many anthropologists working today. Although photography remained an important fieldwork exercise for both Malinowski and EvansPritchard (as well as other Malinowski-influenced students such as Raymond Firth), its evidential and scientific value had been challenged significantly.