Photography and anthropology share strikingly parallel histories. Christopher Pinney's provocative and eminently readable account provides a polemical narrative of anthropologists' use of photography from the 1840s to the present. Walter Benjamin suggested that photography 'make[s] the difference between technology and magic visible as a thoroughly historical variable,' and Pinney here explores photography as a divinatory practice. Though viewed as modern and rational, this quality of photography in fact propelled anthropologists towards the 'primitive' lives of those they studied. Early anthropology celebrated photography as a physical record, whose authority and permanence promised an escape from the lack of certainty in speech. For later anthropologists, this same quality became grounds to critique an imaging practice that failed to capture movement and process. But throughout these twists and turns, anthropology as a practice of 'being there' has found itself entwined in an intimate engagement with photography as metaphor for the collection of evidence.
Photography and Anthropology reveals how anthropology provides the tools to re-imagine the power and magic of all photographic practices. It presents both a history of anthropology's seduction by photography and the anthropological theory of photography. This thoroughly researched book draws upon an intimate knowledge of the history of anthropology, photography and the world's major anthropological practitioners.
Christopher Pinney is Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London. He is the author of Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs (1997) and 'Photos of the Gods': The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (2003), both published by Reaktion.