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Images, Selves, and the Visual Record: Photography and Ethnographic Complexity in Central Cape York Peninsula

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This essay addresses anthropological engagement with photography in indigenous Australian contexts. Following the work of Gell and Edwards, and drawing on the history of photography and ethnography in central Cape York Peninsula, I explore some ways that photographs may exceed relations of objectification and exoticism. Many ethnographic photographs have continued to circulate within and beyond Cape York Peninsula, while others have been returned to the descendants of those portrayed. This process of circulation may be accompanied by shifts in the meanings drawn from images, and increasing numbers of photographs are being taken by Aboriginal people themselves. Both these photographs and the engagement of earlier photographs by Aboriginal people demonstrate differences with the ways that photographs are dealt with in ‘Western’ contexts. Whether as ‘social things’, as objects, or as distributed aspects of the agency of those taking or featuring in them, photographs remain active in their interaction with viewers and demand a more nuanced analysis of colonial relationships.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2003

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  • Social Analysis has long been at the forefront of anthropology's engagement with the humanities and other social sciences. In forming a critical, concerned, and empirical perspective, it encourages contributions that break away from the disciplinary bounds of anthropology and suggest innovative ways of challenging hegemonic paradigms through 'grounded theory', analysis based in original empirical research. The journal invites contributions directed toward a critical and theoretical understanding of cultural, political, and social processes, as well as the work of active ethnographic researchers who study the forces involved in the production of human suffering, poverty, prejudice, war, and violence.
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