A forum to discuss the role of photography in and for anthropology

Members: 311
Latest Activity: Dec 23, 2014

Photography and Ethnography

Since its invention in 1839, photography has regularly been used in anthropology
in a variety of ways and with changing intentions; but the discipline’s handling of the
medium has still not reached full maturity. Anthropology still remains first and
foremost a science of words (Mead 1975). So, for example, there are scarcely any initiatives for making the photographs taken during field research accessible to a wider
public. Pictures are simply used as aids in presentations, or in publications merely as
»support« for academic texts. The anthropologist David MacDougall made the trenchant
point that anthropologists were indeed interested in the visual, but had no idea what to do with it (MacDougall 2006). The anthropologist Barbara Wolbert assumes
that photography has remained a blind spot for anthropology because of its manipulative
potential. Identifying the fact that a photograph always gives away as much about
the person who took it as the person depicted, she concludes that anthropologists are
concerned to keep the origins of their texts, their local fieldwork, and their relationships
with the local population away from the public (Wolbert 1998). This may well
be correct in individual cases, but apart from the fact that texts are also capable of
doing this, anthropology would be depriving itself of an essential resource for mediating
cultures if it failed to take full advantage of photography’s potential.
One common feature of photography and anthropology is that both can show what is particular to us and what is alien, and at the same time to make us aware of this. The American literary and cultural critic Susan Sontag came up with the following analogy in one of her most famous essays, On Photography:

Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away. It offers, in one easy, habit-forming activity, both participation and alienation in our own lives and those of others – allowing us to participate, while confirming alienation. (Sontag 1977: p. 167).

(from the Introduction of “Kyrgyzstan: a photoethnography of Talas” 2007 Hirmer Verlag)

Discussion Forum

What lens for fieldwork?? 7 Replies

Started by Agustin Diz. Last reply by Agustin Diz Jun 24, 2012.

Can Photography portray Reality? 8 Replies

Started by Lucia Pinto. Last reply by lisa l galarneau, ph.d. Jun 21, 2010.

A Flickr group for ethnographic images 1 Reply

Started by Martin Hoyem. Last reply by Martin Hoyem Jan 11, 2010.

Comment Wall


You need to be a member of Photoethnography to add comments!

Comment by Claudio Cortes on September 2, 2013 at 6:36pm

María, me pareció muy interesante tu trabajo, sobre todo el rescatar esas voces que a veces se tornan subalternas. Gracias por compartirlo.



Comment by maria lopez on August 12, 2013 at 3:57pm

hello! nice to find this group. I am very much interested in visual anthropology. This is my latest attempt to a reflection on the subject :-)

it's made in north Thailand with women from Burma.



Comment by Nafisa Fera on August 3, 2012 at 12:53pm

The Body Canvas Photo Competition


The Royal Anthropological Institute has launched its third international photo competition open to anyone interested in anthropology and photography. The topic is body art and modification. Categories include: 1) tattoos and scarification, 2) piercings and body reshaping. Deadline for submissions is 30th September 2012.  For more information and to download an application form visit:

Comment by Francesco Marano on July 17, 2012 at 11:24am


Call for Papers, Video, Photo-Essays, Reviews

To publish in 2012 the deadline is: August 31, 2012


Visual Ethnography is an online peer-reviewed journal dedicated to researches on the following topics: the production and the use of images and audiovisual media in the socio-cultural practices; the ethnographic representation through audiovisual media and devices (film, photography, multimedia, etc.); the gaze and the practices where vision is an important item for the construction of the meaning in the social relationships and practices; on the visual dimension of objects, bodies, places and environments. Moreover, the journal reserves a space for articles devoted to reflections on theories and methods of anthropology.

Visual Ethnography publishes two issues a year in five languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The interests of Visual Ethnography cross visual anthropology, media anthropology, visual cultures, museography, photography, contemporary art, cultural studies, film studies, anthropology of the senses, digital cultures, anthropological theory.

Comment by Inês Ponte on June 24, 2012 at 6:07pm


The 17th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences ( is taking place in Manchester, UK, from August 5th-10th August 2013 and is now open for submissions.

Those concerned with visual anthropological questions might be interested in our panel, Visual Encounters: audiovisual approaches to anthropological knowledge (V01), to which we invite you to submit a paper. Proposals should be submitted through the 'Propose a paper' link on the call page,

Please note that the deadline for paper proposals is July 13.

Short Abstract:
This panel explores how audiovisual methods are being used in contemporary research and what insights such use may bring to anthropologically informed research questions. We invite discussions concerned with ethics, representation, and with the distinctive knowledge produced by audiovisual means.

Long Abstract:
The purpose of this panel is to explore the contributions of visual anthropology to elucidate socio-cultural anthropological concerns. Photography, film and sound recording devices have been of great importance in the development of the discipline as a whole. The works of Bronislaw Malinowiski, Margareth Mead, Gregory Bateson and Claude Levi-Strauss explored the use of the image in its moving and static forms, while Jean Rouch's ethnofictions experimented with the camera as a tool for reflexivity. Moreover, contributions that questioned the notion of anthropology as a 'discipline of words' have given emphasis to the impact of (audio-)visual research in contemporary anthropological enquiries. The aim of our panel is to explore how audiovisual methods are being used in contemporary research and what insights and debates such use may bring to anthropologically informed research questions.

The fact that video, photographic cameras and sound recording equipment are becoming more and more accessible to anthropologists, as well as to their subject groups, is a feature in contemporary research creating interesting dynamics and posing new challenges in terms of ethics and representation.

Audiovisual explorations in the field also enabled researchers, such as David MacDougall (among others), to investigate sensorial and corporeal forms of understanding, turning visual anthropology into a field of scientific research with its distinctive methods and epistemological assessments.

We are inviting contributions that explore the use of audio-visual media in research whilst providing significant insights to general anthropological debates. The papers can include the screening/showing of audio-visual material.

Convenors: Martha-Cecilia Dietrich, Ines Ponte, Luciana Lang, Flavia Kremer (University of Manchester)

Comment by Aparecida Maria de Souza Schmidt on February 19, 2012 at 2:54pm
Are there anyone, who would like to write a few words on visual anthropology and share on a blog?
Comment by Judith Beyer on February 9, 2012 at 12:04pm

Hi everyone,

this sounds (reads, looks!) interestingThe photographic turn in oral history

Comment by Fabrizio Loce Mandes on January 30, 2012 at 12:28am

Fourth Edition of "Contro-Sguardi: International Anthropological Film Festival "

Theme of the year 2012: "For a culture of Work"

Perugia (Italy)


(Deadline: 20 February 2012)


The Ass. “Contro-Sguardi”, in collaboration with the Anthropological Section of the Department Man and Environment (Uomo e Territorio) of the University of Perugia (Italy), the city council of Perugia, Informagiovani and the cultural association Macadam, promotes the fourth edition of “Contro-Sguardi: International Anthropological Film Festival”. Theme of the year 2012: “For a culture of work”.

With this call we would like to solicitate the submission of documentary films, fictions, ethnographic, photographic exhibitions, and proposals for theatrical and musical performances related to the topic in question.

Since 2008 the festival, founded to bring together works of anthropological cinema, is open to diverse forms of visual representations. Since last year the festival became biennial, and each edition will concentrate on a specific thematic topic related to socio-cultural dynamics and contemporary societies. Contro-Sguardi 2012 proposes several kinds of differently structured workshops and debate sessions on a broad range of topics related to the “culture of work”. The aim of this theme is to reflect on the crisis of current economic and social models which progressively shrink the spaces of work, especially of young people, with many repercussions for personal and social life. Specifically, with “Culture of Work” we mean the multiplicity of social contexts, anthropological, economic, political and emotional that define work as a practice, knowledge, and existential status of the human being through which it is realized as well for self-determination.

In the awareness of social research, which increasingly requires a dialogical and experimental comparison of new techniques and technologies with their visual productions, “the Festival” opens a Call for video, photos, sounds and performance aimed at filmmakers, students, researchers and teachers.

Info: ; ;

Call For Entry Contro-Sguardi festival 2012

Entry Form Contro-Sguardi Festival 2012

Regulation Contro-Sguardi festival 2012

Comment by Martin Hoyem on November 23, 2011 at 8:17pm

"... Douglas Harper, Good Company."


Oh, yeah! I forgot about Harper, Mark. I don't remember how much he writes about photography vs. ethnography, but his book is certainly one to behold.


(I have an excerpt from Good Company, as well, in  my magazine:


I like Danny Lyon's iconic Bikeriders, too. Chronicle Books' re-issue from 2003 is great.

Comment by Mark Kirchner on November 23, 2011 at 7:40pm



I agree with Martin about Howard Becker’s writing.  His thoughts and methodologies have shaped some of my favorite books that you might consider for complementing your photo-ethnography course.

Frank Cancian, Another Place

Dianne Hagaman, How I Learned Not To Be A Photojournalist

Douglas Harper, Good Company


Members (306)



OAC Press



© 2019   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service