Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images

By Elizabeth Edwards; Janice Hart | Go to book overview

4

MIXED BOX

The cultural biography of a box of 'ethnographic' photographs

Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart


The box in the museum

This chapter considers perhaps the most ubiquitous and therefore invisible of material objects: a box with things in it in the reserve collections of a museum. It explores how, by enclosing specific photographs in conjunction with one another, materiality becomes integral to the meanings of images. We hope to demonstrate how, through seeing photographs as material objects to which things happen, we might come closer to understanding ways in which photographs operate as visual objects within the discursive practices of, in this case, anthropology and anthropological museums. 1

The art historian Norman Bryson sums up a methodological problem that is central to the concerns of this chapter when he writes about the way in which the act of looking is caught up between the conjuncture of a disappearing past and an emerging present:

Surrounding those forms of looking that have given rise to the discursive configurations that actually figure in the archive, are other submerged series of procedures that addressed other needs. Such series will include codes of viewing that represent residual practices edged out by the rise of those latter codes that are hardly yet formed, emergent ways of seeing whose coherence has not yet been established and whose energies have not yet taken root, still tentative and altering configurations that still have to find each other and lock together.

(Bryson 1992:36)

The specific focus of this chapter is Box 54 in the 'Mixed Geographical' series of the photograph collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Figure 4.1). It is a synthetic object of linked but separate parts (the photographs on their card mounts) that have interacted, and continue to interact, with each other and with the institution in which they are housed, to produce a succession of meanings that are broader and more complex than a simple sum of the various parts. What has gone on and what is going on in the succession of mediations around the object that determine and are determined by meanings? What are, to follow Bryson, the submerged

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Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Un Beau Souvenir Du Canada 16
  • 3 - Ere the Substance Fade 32
  • 4 - Mixed Box 47
  • 5 - Making Meaning 62
  • 6 - Making a Journey 81
  • 7 - Photographic Playing Cards and the Colonial Metaphor 96
  • 8 - 'Under the Gaze of the Ancestors' 113
  • 9 - The Photograph Reincarnate 132
  • 10 - 'Photo-Cross' 148
  • 11 - Print Club Photography in Japan 166
  • 12 - Photographic Materiality in the Age of Digital Reproduction 186
  • References 203
  • Index 219
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