On the Importance of Collaboration (and Remuneration!) in Ethnographic Photography

(C) Dick Powis 2017

“Photography was a license to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do,” [Diane] Arbus wrote. The camera is a kind of passport that annihilates moral boundaries and social inhibitions, freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward the people photographed. The whole point of photographing people is that you are not intervening in their lives, only visiting them. The photographer is supertourist, an extension of the anthropologist, visiting natives and bringing back news of their exotic doings and strange gear. The photographer is always trying to colonize new experiences or find new ways to look at familiar subjects—to fight against boredom” (Sontag 1977, 33).

The very popular photography blog, PetaPixel, posted an article yesterday called “How to Deal with Locals Who Ask You for Money to Take Their Photo.” If you can’t tell from the title, the author – Kelly Johnson – argues that people asking for money must be “dealt with.” Photographers, they argue, should consider ways to take photos of people that don’t involve giving them money, because, as they write, “You may be harming them more than helping.” Paternalism is paired generously in this article with condescension, as they suggest photographers should not always take locals’ requests for money seriously. After a great deal of negative attention, the article was taken down, but luckily, the internet never forgets (a colleague found a cached version), but then it did forget for some reason (and now it’s gone). As it turns out, the article was posted on Johnson’s business blog a few days prior by the company’s founder, Etienne Bossot. (There’s no telling how long it will stay up.) It’s not clear who is the actual author, so I’ll address them both below.

I’m writing about this because, as an ethnographer who uses photography extensively, I find that these ethical issues cut across both fields of expertise, and that ethnographers might learn something from a conversation that is ongoing and concurrent amongst travel photographers. Below what I have to say here, I’ve taken to annotating the article as I might a student’s rough draft, though with much less tact.

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TAL + SM: Anthropology and Science Journalism, A New Genre?

Click here to check out the podcast

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 3
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. We’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.

In our third episode of the TAL + SM crossover series, we explored SAPIENS’ approach to producing anthropological content for popular audiences. Ryan and Adam were joined by the digital editor of SAPIENS, Daniel Salas, to discuss the implications of using anthropology to engage the public through journalism. The episode focused on the questions How do you reconcile scientific and anthropological writing, and is this mixture a new genre? Is there a balance to be found between producing timeless “evergreen” stories versus current events focused content for audience engagement?

Be sure to check out the first and second episodes of the TAL + SM collaboration: Writing “in my Culture” and Anthropology has Always Been out There. Continue reading

When the Internet goes dark on 12 July, so should anthropology

I’ve written on this blog before about the Trump Administration’s recent changes to net neutrality rules. These rules will let your Internet Service Provider — your cable or mobile phone company — pick and chose what parts of the Internet you can view and how quickly video and webpages will load. As part of the campaign to stop these new rules, a massive coalition of non-profits, companies, and activist groups are planning a day of action to black out the net called ‘Battle for the Net’. Anthropology blogs and websites everywhere need to show solidarity and join this day of action. Continue reading

TAL + SM: Anthropology has Always been Out There

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 2
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins, with Leslie Walker

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. For this series we’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text. That means each week for the month of June we’ll bring you two dialogues – one podcast and one blog post – with innovative anthropological thinkers and doers.

You can check out the the second episode of the collaboration titled: Anthropology has Always been Out There, here.

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A Note about Changing the Name of the Blog and the Podcast Series

Earlier this week, in collaboration with the podcast This Anthro Life, we debuted our new five-part series called “These Anthro Minds” – except that wasn’t the first choice for the title. A rather unfortunate choice that incorporated words from our own blog title made it through unvetted, a choice that had the unwanted consequence of retraumatizing those who take issue with the name of our blog in the first place.

Since announcing that we would like to change the name, I have heard from a number of Colleagues of Color in anthropology who support our decision. Most frequent among the responses were “It’s about time,” and “You know there’s a reason I never felt comfortable guest blogging for you.” Some of us knew that the name was problematic, and and some of us knew that it held the potential to marginalize these colleagues, but I don’t think we ever knew if it actually did. All the more reason to change it.

I fear that the favor we have won with the gesture of initiating this change has evaporated in the extended length of time that it has taken to deliberate on a new name. (We hope to announce by #AAA2017 in Washington DC.) All I can say is that we have not prioritized what needs to be prioritized in order to arrest the ongoing damage. For that, I am sorry.

Now, with this incident involving TAL, I also fear that it might appear to our Colleagues of Color that someone here at this blog has doubled-down on their belief that the blog title is not problematic. I can assure you that we all recognize the problem with the name. The producers of TAL moved forward with the name unaware that we would like to distance ourselves from it. That we ever thought it would be an appropriate title for our blog speaks to the dehistoricized and institutionalized characteristics of méconnu words that are tangled in a web of esoteric social theory, French-English translational puns, and “post-racial” anthropology, while casually traumatizing and marginalizing those that we (white Euro-American anthropologists) have historically traumatized and marginalized.

For what it’s worth, when we brought this issue to their attention, the producers of TAL changed the series name with lightning speed.

The new name for the podcast series, “These Anthro Minds,” was suggested by Indigenous Scholar and Biological Anthropology PhD Candidate Savannah Martin from Washington University in St. Louis.

In short: We can do better. You deserve better.

Which humanities?

Alfred Kroeber always used to say that anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences. But which humanities? After all, ‘humanities’ covers an awful lot. How anthropologists do anthropology is probably deeply shaped by how we imagine ourselves to be similar to other disciplines — and that imagination has changed over time.  Continue reading

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story – [Book Review]

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Vidula G. Khanduri. A STEM major at Wellesley College, Vidula enjoys dabbling in the crossroads of politics, science, technology, and society. She’s an avid reader of graphic novels and mystery books, is a skilled makeup artist, and loves to sing classical music.

Drawn & Quarterly

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story.
By Peter Bagge
72 pp + notes. Drawn and Quarterly. 2017.

Review by Vidula G. Khanduri.

Author, anthropologist, and feminist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) stood out among her peers during  the Harlem Renaissance. She bent norms: denouncing communism, wearing unique clothing, and embracing social imperfections. Her books narrate black American life, “warts and all,” unlike the works of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and other black literary figures, who accounted for white perceptions of the black community. Hurston’s impact on literature was long forgotten until Alice Walker revived her works in the 1970s. Her grave was left unmarked and untended for years. Since then, Hurston’s novels, especially Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), have found spots in college syllabi all over the country. Named after an unsuccessful black literary magazine Hurston and her colleagues created in criticism of Harlem politics, Peter Bagge’s Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story narrates her life from start to finish in a graphic form as colorful as Hurston herself.

Bagge’s cover art turns the iconic Hurston – sitting, holding a cigarette between her fingers – on its head. The front cover is a composite picturing Hurston at a turpentine camp where she conducted fieldwork, donning the new Stetson hat, car, and shotgun she was notorious for spending her whole anthropological research grant on. Bagge consistently illustrates Hurston wearing bright yellow – homage to her commanding and bold personality. Episodes of dispute, frustration, excitement, and frenzy stand out as silhouettes in black and white panels.

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This Anthro Life + Savage Minds: Writing “in my Culture”

A podcast and blog walk into a bar…


This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 1
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. In this series we’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.

You can check out the the first episode of the collaboration titled Writing “in my Culture” here. Continue reading

Anthropology in an Age of ‘Dangerous Nonsense’ (Part 1)

In the waning moments of 2016, one man, armed with an AR-15 and “information” about a conspiracy related to Hilary Clinton, walked into a DC pizza parlor hell bent on finding truth. After a quick look around and a shot or two fired, what he got was arrested. This is surely an extreme example of the perils of “dangerous nonsense” that Neil Postman warned us about decades ago.

Back in 1985 Postman wrote a little book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which I happened to use for a class on culture and film I was teaching last year. It turned out to be a prescient book to be reading during the 2016 campaign season (and then some). Postman’s book focuses on the erosion of public discourse in the US, and he faults TV as one of the primary corrosive forces. While there are admittedly some holes in his argument, especially from an anthropological perspective,[1] the book is definitely worth a read.

In essence, Postman’s book is about the fate of liberal democracy. He begins the book with a simple suggestion: If we want to understand what has happened to our democratic institutions, we should look to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World rather than George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (the latter, of course, is selling like crazy in these post-election times). Postman writes,

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

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Vale Michael Agar

It is with sadness that I write about the death of Mike Agar on 20 May 2017. Others have written about his life and his passing on redfish.com and Anthropology News. I mention Mike’s passing here because not because I know him as well as others — I didn’t — but because Mike was a contributor to our site. The first contributor in the site’s history, in fact, to pass away. He did an occasional post for us, and also served as a guest blogger. Mike had a unique career, following his own path and always, always, producing work that was intelligent, great to read, and directly relevant to real-world problems like drug policy. He will be missed. Vale, Mike.

Anthropology for Everyone

Michael Wesch and Ryan Klataske of Kansas State University have been working for the past year with WordPress Guru Tom Woodward  to create a free “Connected Course” in Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. This course, designed as “anthropology for everyone”, takes place on ANTH101.com. Wesch has drafted a free online textbook to accompany the course, and is running a pilot course this summer that starts Monday, June 5.  He will be producing a new video every weekday as part of the course. Here’s the introductory video for the summer course:

ANTH101 is not only free for students, but everything on the site is freely available for use by any instructor, in any course, anywhere in the world.  It can be used in a face-to-face environment as a free textbook replacement or in an online environment.  Instructors can set up their own “clans” (student groups) in which students can submit challenges (assignments) and cultivate a sense of community. In the future, Wesch and Klataske want to create ways for faculty to contribute to the main site (they already have a way to share and crowdsource resources related to each lesson) while also making their own custom versions for their own courses. Here, they discuss the philosophy and vision behind the course. Continue reading

Clifford Geertz: Ethnographer?

Why was Clifford Geertz such a popular anthropologist? Because he connected anthropology and the humanities? Because he was a great writer? One answer that often comes up is that he was a great ethnographer. I mean, he actually did ethnography. Negara (1980) was a historical anthropology of power that appeared just in time for 1980s-era historical anthropology. Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (1978) is a massive tome.  Kinship in Bali (1975) was technical and dense, hardly the lackadaisical em-dash filled slackfest some people accused Geertz’s writing of being. Peddlers and Princes and Agricultural Involution (both 1963) are vintage New Nations ethnographies. Religion of Java (1960) seems to rise above its Parsonian roots.

But what does it mean to be a great ethnographer? Continue reading

Looking in the Mirror (Part 3 of 3)


“How can the country go up, when the head of state is a sonless widow,” the priest declared. I quietly took notes. I recorded what I was being told on the grounds of gods—a royal court, really. There was the god-king, his god-ministers, and their god-protectors guarding the village full of godly trees tucked high on a mountain slope. We had taken a jeep ride on bumpy and muddy fresh tracks west of Kathmandu, trekked for days through villages, and climbed steep hills to get to the priest.

In the spring of 2016, the Madhesi blockade had just ended, and the country was still feeling the effects of the earthquake from a year ago. Nepal as a nation was suffering, and the pain was going to persist—how could it get better, when a woman, a sonless widow, is occupying the president’s office—implied the holder of knowledge I was interviewing.

Last week, a student taking my course at University of Washington’s Nepal Studies Initiative asked how I balance between being an anthropologist and a human being. This question arose as we began wrapping up the course. Throughout this quarter, students had engaged with articles, book chapters, and audio-visual materials in order to understand ‘sacred Himalaya.’ Our lively class discussions were filled with arguments and cases of grounded realities, projected imaginaries, the self, and the study. So, the question of how to face challenging situations while remaining ‘ethical,’ ‘objective,’ and ‘relativist’ in the field seemed like a natural progression of our class discussion. Continue reading

Vale Ben Finney

I was deeply saddened to hear that Ben R. Finney passed away around noon on 23 May 2017. Ben was a professor in the anthropology department at UH Mānoa for over forty five years. He will be best remembered as a founding member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a member of the first crew of the Hōkūle‘a that sailed from Hawai‘i to Tahiti in 1976. But Ben was much more then that. A pivotal figure in Pacific anthropology in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, he not only helped rekindle voyaging as a form of indigenous resurgence, he also studied capitalism in the Pacific and humanity in space.

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Looking in the Mirror (Part 2 of 3)

Recently a friend of mine discovered a picture of her grandfather in one of the ethnographic books about the Sherpas. Underneath the picture, next to his name, it said “assistant.” She found this insulting. As she saw it, her grandfather had always occupied a space of respect and honor. In this book, he was reduced to an assistant.

Why does her irritation make sense to me? And, at the same time, why do I think the title of “assistant” is appropriate in this context?

I am a Sherpa anthropologist—an anthropologist, who is a Sherpa, and a Sherpa, who became an anthropologist. I make no claim to know everything about Sherpas or related to Sherpas. How could I?

After hundreds of hours of interviews over the years, everyday participant observation, and continuous reflection—filled with pleasure and pain—the only thing I can say authoritatively as a Sherpa anthropologist is that there is no one authority on the Sherpas.

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