ABSTRACT

This statement is taken from the introduction of Theodor Koch-Grünberg’s travelogue Zwei Jahre unter den Indianern published in 1909/10, and can be regarded as an example of the methodological shift in early twentieth century anthropology from a paradigm of collecting towards one of participantobservation.2 The author, Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872-1924), was one of the outstanding German ethnographers of South America, and has been celebrated for anticipating this turn in anthropological methodology as well as for his advocacy on behalf of the indigenous peoples he encountered.3 His role as a visual anthropologist, however, is less widely recognized, even though visual research practices and issues of representation were central to Koch-Grünberg’s fieldwork. The visual methodologies he engaged with during fieldwork are also arguably indicative of a wider process of methodological transition within German anthropology. By looking at his early fieldwork photography, it becomes clear that at least in German anthropology the shift towards modern fieldwork practice

was not a clear-cut paradigmatic turn. Both in his fieldwork methods and in the presentation of his results, Koch-Grünberg was clearly a man grounded in the established academic notions of ethnographic data gathering, collecting and universalistic ideas of the later nineteenth century. Yet at the same time his writings and images reflect a growing interest in cultural particularities and what we would now term “reflexivity” – drawing attention to the role of the ethnographer in the construction of ethnographic description. This essay explores these tensions in the visual anthropology of Koch-Grünberg, that both extended and challenged nineteenth-century anthropological practices while at the same time opening up a new methodological space for the ethnographic encounter.