Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images

By Elizabeth Edwards; Janice Hart | Go to book overview

9

THE PHOTOGRAPH REINCARNATE

The dynamics of Tibetan relationships with photography

Clare Harris

Since 1950, when China began its takeover of Tibet, the socio-political contexts of Tibetan material and visual culture have been radically dislocated. All pre-existing activities of a religious, social or cultural nature have had to be reinvented either by Tibetan refugees in the alien conditions of host nations or by those who remained 'at home' in a country that has been renamed the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Whether as exiles or members of a minzu (national minority) of a colonising communist state, Tibetans have been engaged in processes of cultural retrieval and reconfiguration in which the photograph has been an active co-participant. This chapter explores the ways in which Tibetans use, adapt and create photographs, with an emphasis on their presence in the physical world. A cross-cultural perspective allows us to investigate the specificities of shifting relationships between Tibetan bodily practice in the domain of photographs, while also suggesting ways in which a global technology like photography (and the theories attached to it) can be adapted for a contemporary Asian setting. As a physically tangible thing with an indexical link to persons deceased or places vacated, the Tibetan photograph is more than just a 'certificate of presence' (Barthes 1984:87), it is a socially salient object that literally embodies and enacts relationships with the past, present and even the future. This is possible due to the specifically local Tibetan concept of reincarnation, in which the human body is seen as a receptacle, fleetingly occupied by a person or deity, but when apprehended in sensory and haptic registers, these values are literally incarnated in photographs. Following from this, when consumed by refugees as part of an 'artefactual diaspora', photographs become the temporary physical location for the transmigration of ideas about identity and belonging in both local and global contexts.


Locating 'Tibet' in exile

The ethnographic focus of this chapter is primarily drawn from observations made in Tibetan communities in northern India, particularly in Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh), where the project of reconstructing Tibet in exile is led by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, his government and monastic institutions. Here the sense of loss and

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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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