DM8305 Archive - Update 5

I was hoping to respond to a collection specifically within the dropbox, but thought it best to create a two-part response. First, I wanted to gather portraits which reflect similar themes in the dropbox (constructing the Other, classification of bodies) but are applied to South Asian bodies. I found several images from various collections of photographs of South Asians by Western photographers. I decided to focus mainly on the Alkazi Collection of Photography, which brings together images from various photographers working throughout the British Raj.

Then, I wanted to respond to this classification of specifically South Asian bodies through a more personal approach, family portraiture. Family portraiture reflects a vastly different power dynamic between the photographer and the subject. Often, the person behind the camera is a close relative, and is better equipped to capture a person’s authentic self. Additionally, the motivations behind family portraiture are different from ethnographic portraits – while family portraits also seek to record and prevent loss, the purpose behind this is not classification or oppression.

My process involved going through old family albums to find portraits for comparison. I wanted to present them next to each other as a starting point for consideration about the gaze of the ethnographic photographer vs. the family member. Also wanted the format to reflect a family album to add a more personal touch – worked on a physical album, but thought a flipbook would be easier to present visually.

Three Examples of Diptychs

  • Testimony of presence
  • The house was torn down and rebuilt years after this photo, so this rooftop no longer exists in the same way
  • My cousin was attached to the old house and the rooftop was a communal space for the children of the family
  • Both photographs are posed, but there isn’t a sense of performing an identity on the right
  • The photo on the left is a romanticized construction of an Other – she has little say in her own representation
  • Her pose looks less natural and more suggestive
  • This photograph is an example of the colonizer / photographer applying their own romantic biases to the subject.

Uncle’s in-laws
  • Evocations of essence
  • I don’t know either of them too well, but from my interactions with them, this struck me as an example of capturing their “air” or their essence
  • He was more introverted and dignified, she is extroverted and dynamic and more loud
  • His expression and his gesture strike me as revealing parts of his personality, and her knowing smirk reveals her personality
  • The portrait on the left is a wedding portrait by an unknown photographer which has been re-colourized
  • Their expressions reveal very little about their personalities or interactions with one another.

Great-uncle with dog
  • Emotional Characterization
  • Bruno was supposedly my great-uncle’s “favourite child,” and he was grumpy but had a soft spot for the dog
  • His expression reveals a lot about his personality – through his interaction with the dog, he reveals a begrudgingly loving side
  • The portrait on the left is placed as a point of comparison because of a lack of emotional characterization in the subject’s expression or gesture
  • I can tell very little about the subject because the purpose of this portrait was probably only classification

DM8305 Archive - Update 4

Alkazi Collection
This is a privately-owned archive consisting of more than one hundred thousand nineteenth and early-twentieth century photographs from India, Burma/Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Afghanistan, China, and Japan. The collection is based in New Delhi and consists of single prints, paper negatives, glass-plate negatives, painted photographs, and postcards. The collection is especially strong in landscape and topographical photographs, anthropological studies of South Asian people, princes and royalty in India, military studies, and the development of colonial cities.

It features multiple photographers and only a selection is available publicly online:

Tressider Album
  • The collection of British civil surgeon John Nicholas Tressider who was part of the Indian Medical Service from 1842-1877, which allowed him to travel extensively
  • He was posted in Agra and Kanpur, and took photos during the uprising in Kanpur against British rule in India
  • He asked a variety of people to pose for him, including distinguished military personnel, members of the Kanpur civil administration

Bourne & Shepherd Studio
  • Started by Samuel Bourne, this studio and collection came from a drive that Bourne had to capture the ‘picturesque’ landscapes of India

Raja Deen Dayal
  • Was the first Indian photographer to earn international acclaim for his photographic work in India
  • He began his career as a photographer for the Prince of Wales and the Royal Party on their tour of India in 1875-76
  • He accompanied British photographers on journeys and was the official photographer for Lord Dufferin
  • Because he was operating within a world that was dominated by the British, his practice came to reflect that, and ethnographic, stereotyped portraits of Indians are part of his work

Delhi Durbar
  • A durbar was an imperial-style mass coronation assembly organized by the British, in which English monarchs were proclaimed Emperors of India
  • They symbolized the transfer of power from a Mughal authority to a colonial one
  • They were meant to mark the beginning of an imperial reign and there were three of them, in 1877, 1903, and 1911
  • These photographs by various artists are meant to shed light upon the spectacle of the durbars
  • However, they also highlight the self-congratulating extravagance of British rule

Side note: Homai Vyarawalla
  • As a contrast, the Alkazi Collection recently acquired the archives of India’s first female press photographer, Homai Vyarawalla
  • She captured the final days of the British Empire and the transformation of India into a modern nation-state
  • She photographed political, social, and cultural life in Delhi and her images often provide a stark counter-archive to the photographs captured during British rule

DM8305 Archive - Update 3

My main approach right now involves looking for images and footage that is publicly available online instead of in an institution that might not be as accessible (e.g. museum, university archive collections). I tried to focus primarily on Asian people photographing and representing themselves to contrast the colonial lens present throughout the dropbox folder.

  • First Days Project -
  • Patchwork Archivists -
  • AGSL Digital Photo Archive -
  • Indian Memory Project -
  • University of Wisconsin Digital Collections -

Patchwork Archivists and the Indian Memory Project do not seem to make the majority of their collection available online for the public to view.

Portraiture’s Power to Reveal a Person
According to scholar Cynthia Freeland, portraiture has two fundamental aims: revelatory (to reveal a person) and creative (artistic expression), which often come into conflict with each other. While I’ll be focusing on the revelatory aspects, the creative considerations often come into play, particularly when considering the motivations of the photographer. When the colonial gaze or the oppressive gaze comes into play, this so-called creative expression can strip the subject of any agency in their own representation. Instead, the creative goals of the oppressor take over and Othered bodies are depicted in ways that Western audiences will align with their own preconceptions of stereotypes.

Either way, it is clear that the power dynamics between the photographer and the subject affect the end result. She ultimately suggests that in the best case, there should be reciprocity between the two. According to Cynthia Freeland, a portrait’s power to reveal a person relies on four elements
  • Accuracy – rendering the subject distinguishable and recognizable, rendering key elements of a person’s external appearance
  • Testimony of Presence – showing that a person existed, functioning as an icon to manifest some sort of presence
  • Emotional Characterization – offering information about the subject’s personality, emotions, or attitudes
  • Evocations of essence – capturing a person’s unique “air” – this is a more abstract concept

DM8305 Archive - Week Two

Historical Context

In order to better understand the items in the existing archive, I have been looking at articles on ethnography and tourism, as well as the anthropology of tourism. I have come across several articles which critically analyze the intersection of ethnography and tourism in various specific regions. I have also come across several articles about ethnographic portraiture specifically. One particularly useful piece was an excerpt on “Taxidermy and Romanic Ethnography” from Fatima Tobing Rony’s The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle. In it, Rony takes a critical look at Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, one of the items in this archive.

Filling in Gaps
One way in which to approach filling out this archive is with supplementary images of ethnographic tourism from regions missing. For example, a colonial stereotype of the Chinese is included, as well as Ceylon / modern Sri Lanka, but not much of South East Asia outside of that. In the article that Deanna shared, “The Back of the Photograph: Making Meaning in the Archive” Rick Halpern explores the ethnographic portraiture of individuals from the Bagobo community in the Philippines. This is one example of a potential set of images to add to the archive, along with others.

Implications and Significance
What makes an object or a person significant enough to document? Which memories are deemed worthy enough to preserve, and by whom?

Possible Responses to the Archive
Considering the wide array of ethnographic depictions of cultures that exists, I would like to approach this project in two ways. Firstly, I would like to supplement the folder with images which speak to the ethnographic depictions of other regions in Asia. Since there are only twenty-five images in the folder, it was impossible to include everything. A wide range is already covered, but I think I can delve specifically into ethnography throughout Asia to narrow my focus somewhat.

For a long time, I have admired Tammy Rae Carland’s An Archive of Feelings as a counter-archive. This piece, along with Ann Cvetkovich’s book which inspired it, was one of my first encounters with the concept of a created archive in response to an absence. Carland brings visibility to the complexity of the queer experience by documenting objects of significance.

While my responses will be focused on race and ethnography, Carland’s focus on physical objects is an interesting point of inspiration. One of my initial reactions to the archive folder was that there seems to be an emphasis on the physical human body in several of the items. Whether the body is fetishized, stereotyped, or dehumanized, this seems to be a common theme in ethnography.

For this reason, and inspired by Carland’s photography, the second part of my response might involve photographing images which signify the lasting impacts of colonialism. By photographing objects rather than people, I hope to draw the focus away from these bodies. I hope to shoot these items in an un-romanticized, possibly clinical way - this would likely involve a plain background and very little, if any, editing.

DM8305 Archive - Initial Thoughts

Upon first examining this archive, there were a few thoughts which struck me as common threads among the items. What was initially most noticeable to me was the fact that a lot of these images generalize groups of people in some way. For example, items 1, 2, 18, 19, and 21 contain visual depictions of large groups. Items 7, 15, 16, and 20 make references to groups of people using text or video.

These items all seem to have a common thread - racist depictions of “outsiders” as a form of othering. Nanook of the North is an infamous example of a highly problematic ethnographic film. Peter Pan’s “What Made the Red Man Red” is another highly critiqued example of a stereotypically racist portrayal of Native Americans. All of the items in the archive hint at power structures in relation to race. In many cases, the item is a colonial depiction of a colonized culture.

It will be interesting to approach this archive, and possibly fill in gaps. One potential option is to gather other similar racist depictions of marginalized cultures in popular culture, instructional or educational videos, news clippings, online archives, and more. Another option could be to consider the ways that an oppositional archive could be presented in order to present counter-narratives created by the groups misrepresented in these cases. For example, one can consider the notion of “popular culture” outside of the western world, instead taking into account the ways that people from these varied communities portray and represent themselves in their own narratives.