Annotation: Edwards, Elizabeth E. 2006. Photographs and the Sound of History

Edwards, Elizabeth E. 2006. Photographs and the Sound of History. Visual Anthropology 21: 27-46.

The article supports a growing focus on sensuous, evocative and experiential anthropology. As framework, the authors uses the Gell’s action-centered approach, Stoller’s notions of sensuous scholarship, and finally, Langford’s suggestion to look into the orality of the photographs. Central to the article’s argument is the need to pay attention to materiality, and as the Edwards writes, “it is the fusion and performative interaction of image and materiality that gives a sensory and embodied access to photographs” (27). The author suggests to understand photographs beyond its visual/material form, and as she writes, “it is time to extend visual anthropology beyond the visual, and to explore the ways in which visual practices, such as the use of photographs, are integrally related to other sensory forms through which the past is articulated” (41). A the author argues, rather than merely being part of visual history, photographs are also linked to oral history, sound, gesture and relationships. The experience of the photographs, as the author suggests, must not be reduced to merely a kind of visual response, but must be understood as “a corpothetic engagement with photographs as bearers of stories in which visual, sound, and touch merge.(41-42). As an ethnographic example, the author looks at the changing meaning of photographs to Australian Aboriginal communities. While photographs of the deceased were once seen as taboo, the Aborigines have “assumed a central role in articulating suppressed, submerged, contested or fractured histories” (28). Edwards thus suggests a method for visual anthropologists that draws on indigenous categories and practices of image. More than the photograph, the anthropologist must pay attention to one’s performances in relation to the photograph: the oral expressions in a more extended acoustical form, to one’s ways of touching the object, the gestures invoked by the visual, and its interaction as a non-human object with the human. Finally, as objects of history, photographs must be seen not only as objects, but as “produced through sets of social relations that can be collected, exchanged through sets of relationships” (30).

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