Anthropology: the archive and photographic ‘seeing’

Colin started off this second week lecture by looking into Anthropology. The four sub fields of Anthropology are physical, archaelogy ( looking at old buildings, burial sites), social (expolosion in looking how one sees themselves, wider discipline) and linguistics (words and sounds). Antropology up until the Second World War was about observing the “other” after 1940’s/50’s regeneration, it became about observing how you look at people. As a brief explanation , the “other” in this case is small societies outside Europe and America. Colin states that the idea of Anthropology is looking at things in existence and taking them apart and reconstructing them, just as an artist does. Gietz looks at how the anthropologist works being self reflective and self conscious. This is shown in the movement modernism where the self consciousness of the modern made artists become aware of the art as itself.

Colin then put in a quote by Salman Rushdie (see below) and highlighted from here the fact that new images can chase out the old and it is for that reason that art has no singular function, we can investigate and reinvestigate over and over.


This is where Colin started to look at how important archives are. They are the validation of truth but can be dangerous and powerful. Michel Foucault looked at mental hospitals and sexuality archives. Some of the ideas proposed in these archives we know from our knowledge of the world cannot possibly exist, however because they have been archived in such a way people would believe them to be true for many years.

Participant Observation was what we discovered next. This is when an anthropologist would live in the community or environment he/she is looking into. This intends to show a validation, if you state you were there and you witnessed a certain event taking place people are more likely to believe you. There is a stage where observation becomes problematic, there becomes the question of looking, looking becomes powerful in itself. To illustrate this Colin explained that flogging scenes in Popular Memory over centuries of African slavery. She showed us an image to illustrate this, a women being hung and about to be flogged. Looking back at British archives it is unbelievable how much Britain was actually involved. From this Colin showed us some visuals by Jacob Riis. Riis studies the poor and uses photography to create his first person accounts.


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Colin showed us from here two artists who took a series of photos and both in some way created an archive of the past. The first is Muybridge who used animation by using 20 cameras in a row and trip shuttering them in order to create a movie, this would have been one of the earliest. His work here of a man walking along the street with a bag and a cane. This movie could have been used to give an idea of the era for the following generation. The next was André Lertész and his piece L’art Vivant where he creates a picture of how his life was at a certain point in time using the photographic medium in the form of a postcard.

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According to Carolyn Steedman and her work The Space of Memory, “The archive is also a place of dreams”. This can be illustrated in the photo Earthrise at Christmas, the first image of earth from the moon which was taken in 1968. This image actually sparked the eco and save the planet movements as for the first time we could see how fragile earth is.


In the last section of his talk, Colin looked briefly at Typologies highlighting that archives can also encompass a series of images that show the same thing. He told us about an artist who found some photographs from an old photo shop. In these images there was picture of immigrants who would have a photo taken to send back to their families. In a lot of these images a woman was present, the artist found out this was actually the photographers assistant. The assistant would pose in the photographs in order to give the impression these men had settled down and were integrating well into British Culture.

He then briefly looked at  the Trace and how some artists  encompass this in their art. The first is Yves Klein’s “Anthropometries” where he organises and event and then during this event women would be covered in paint and move around on blank pieces of paper on the floor. The art is both in the event and the traces left over by the women.


This trace is also present in Raymond Hains’ work Cet Homme est Dangereux, where a newspaper clipping has been torn and shredded creating a small trace of the image underneath. Along with this we can also explore Christian Boltanski’s light and image installations that bring to light the events of the Holocaust and the people involved and the traces they have left behind.

Finally Colin mentions leisure space explaining to us firstly about the phenomenon of All Bar One. This chain of bar aimed to have bigger windows in order to attract females and make them feel safe, this then attracted males into the bar and created a winning bar that was popular to all. Colin then showed us a clip called Shanghai Nights which showed how art and liberation of the arts is in China.


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