It’s Photography – Visual Anthropology.

Photography is an art and artisan which can be applied on the most different topics and interests. However in anthropology its application seems to be more complicated than in other fields of interest. The need for visualizing experiences and cultural behaviors has to face questions of authenticity and contextualization. As I do not wish to focus too much on the theoretical questions at this point, I’ll immediately introduce you to my first anthropological shooting project. Together with a colleague of mine, Valeria Blattmann we elaborated a concept regarding the scientific content and technical challenges. It was our first time to consciously concentrate on the interrelations of topic, shooting and the processing of pictures within an anthropological framework. And I’ve to admit that it was lots of fun and many lessons learned.

The intention of our project was to show how people interact within a certain setup. It was our aim to show how people try to overcome physical boarders in order to maintain communication. Therefore we invited six people living at the students’ apartment house of the Afro-Asian Institute in Vienna. While some knew each other already, others had met for the first time – however there have been plenty of topics to talk or keep silent on. All of the people were students from different universities in Vienna, but only two of them had German as their mother tongue. Although they had different social and cultural backgrounds, all of them had moved into a city they didn’t know very much before within the past five years.

In order to create a familiar surrounding we decided to realize the experiment in a place all of them knew very well: the kitchen. In order to create the situation of arising borders we assembled two tiny tables and placed books on them. The amount of books increased constantly while we were trying to catch moments of interventions with the intention of communication. Out of a series of more than 150 pictures shot, finally we post-processed only a selection.

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According our assumptions and the definite output, we have to admit that there are only little cognitions which might be pointed out. Firstly we could observe that all of our participants constantly tried to re-arrange the books in a way, so that they had the opportunity to look at the person they were talking to. Only as quite a lot of books filled up the desks, there had been actions we expected much earlier: People tried to gain sort of an overview by standing up.

Another perception comes from a more theoretical perspective. Were we photographically recording a shooting or anthropologically worthwhile interaction? We’re not sure whether the photography’s have an anthropological value or not. On the one hand it might be argued that the creation of an experimental setting does not necessarily influence the anthropological value of an artwork. But as we chose and processed the final images of this series we judged according to two major aspects: The value of the picture on its own and the contingency of our series. Both aspects are very subjective ones.

A conclusive remark might be the question for the intention of the pictures. Are they really documenting, or do they have much more a representative character. We would consider the second intention to be the more logical one – it’s is the also the better way to explain the usage of different perspectives and post-processing…

As Valeria and I did not to feel to give concrete answers to those questions, you may comment on the pictures. You can have a look at them right here, but you can also download them from Flickr.

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