The study of photography has been expanding its boundaries lately. Too long confined to the discourse of art history and the continents of Europe and North America, the discipline is at last yielding substantial books and exhibitions devoted to the photography of Japan, Africa, Latin America and India, and to the distinctive photographies that have grown out of medicine, the criminal justice system, the family, anthropology and so on. \nThese new histories have focused attention on previously ignored genres and have also posed the challenge of how to write about images and practices that don't lend themselves to analysis as art or that fall outside familiar Western traditions. \nPhotography's Other Histories, an anthology of 12 essays edited by the anthropologists Christopher Pinney and Nicolas Peterson, is an instructive contribution to this continuing effort to revise our understanding of photography. Its core is a group of papers delivered to a 1997 conference in Brisbane, Australia, to which previously published essays by Stephen Sprague, Deborah Poole and Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie have been added. \nThis disparate collection of voices is given a singular identity by a provocative title, an eye-catching cover image (by the Malian photographer Seydou Keita) and a broad introduction by Pinney that does its best to stitch the whole ensemble together into a coherent argument. \nPinney presents this argument through a reference to the title of Jacob Riis' 1890 book about the poor in New York City, How the Other Half Lives. Pinney writes that "the collection of essays in this volume was precipitated by the realization that photography itself is now in need of a similar revelation of its own other half, its own disavowed other history." \nHe's right. And by gathering essays on photographs made in Peru, Papua New Guinea, China, Kenya, India and Nigeria, together with commentaries on photographs of Australian Aborigines and of the Navajo in this country, this book demonstrates that photography is indeed a global practice and that it is fraught with many differences. \nSome of these are visible, and some can be found only through a close examination of photography's reception and dissemination in specific places. But here is where Photography's Other Histories also runs into its first problem. In keeping with their anthropological perspective, this book's editors imagine that difference is only to be found outside our own culture, that photography's other history is to be fashioned from accounts of the medium's representations of non-Western peoples. Accordingly, the book is content to maintain the West's fascination with the exotic elsewhere, and to repeat the unequal exercise of power that enables us to name peoples as the "other." \nIf this criticism seems harsh, consider another decision made by the editors. In his own essay, Pinney stresses the specificity of particular photographic practices, their embeddedness in particular places, histories and cultural traditions. But when it came to placing the four essays about photographing Australia's Aborigines, it was decided not to gather them together but to scatter them throughout the volume, divided according to theme or method and mixed in with essays about American Indian, Chinese and Papuan subjects. The specific history lived by Aborigines in relation to photography ends up being conflated with a generic otherness, leaving us with an academic version of Barnum and Bailey's Great Ethnological Congress of the 1880s, in which native peoples from around the world were presented as a circus act of "type specimens." \nIn fact, this book is primarily about anthropology's history rather than photography's. In that context, many of its contributors do offer trenchant critiques of the ways the West has chosen to represent the victims of its colonial ambitions. \nRoslyn Poignant, for example, provides a heartrending account of the portrayal of a group of nine Aborigines kidnapped from their homes and toured as sideshow attractions throughout the US and Europe in the 1880s. Poignant's nuanced "excavation" of their story continues right up to the present, leading her to condemn The Sunday Times of London for a 1998 report about the Aboriginal community of Palm Island, in which a 19th-century image was manipulated to make its subject look more "savage." \nThis type of violation is less likely to occur in Australia itself, where, as Peterson's essay documents, there is an increasing awareness of Aboriginal taboos about images, an awareness that has sometimes been reinforced by Aboriginal litigation. \nOne of this book's strongest elements is its investigation of what Pinney calls "vernacular modernism." A number of essays detail the complex ways that regional cultures have negotiated the European world view embodied in the photographic apparatus, adopting their own poses, subjects, camera angles, studio settings and ritual contexts to suit local demands and needs. \nPoole's essay, for example, surveys the career of the Peruvian photographer Figueroa Aznar during the first decades of the 20th century. She argues that his allegiance to the indigenista movement in the city of Cusco resulted in photographs that were intended to reflect native Peruvian culture rather than the European influences of the capital, Lima, or the European avant-garde, which was seen as foreign and therefore \nirrelevant. \nThe possibility of other modernisms and other attitudes toward the photograph is reinforced by the inclusion in this volume of the voices of both American Indian and Aboriginal authors, who all have a very personal stake in the meanings and potential uses of photographic archives. \nDespite its flaws, then, this book serves as a timely reminder that there is a need for many histories of photography, just as there are still many photographies for which histories have yet to be written.
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
In the regular drumbeat of arrests of alleged Chinese spies, one case last month stood out. It did not involve the US or another rival of China, but Russia, whose security services accused a prominent arctic scientist of selling classified data on technologies for detecting submarines. Meanwhile a court in Kazakhstan in October convicted the Central Asia nation’s preeminent China specialist of espionage, a move widely interpreted at the time as a warning against increased meddling by the superpower next door. Both men maintain their innocence and if China is spying on Russia, Moscow is surely doing the same. Even so, the fact
A walk down Orchard Road shows just how badly the coronavirus pandemic has hit Singapore’s famed shopping strip. Gone are popular restaurants like Modesto’s, which shut last month after 23 years. Also missing are the queues of Chinese tourists outside Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Malls along the 2.4km stretch, once one of Asia’s top shopping meccas, are dotted with empty stores. On a recent midweek afternoon, the number of shop staff idly dusting shelves or playing with their mobile phones rather than greeting customers is notable. “It’s the worst crisis for Singapore and Orchard Road,” said Kiran Assodani, who has run her