Is Street Photography Good for Anthropology?

While I was studying art photography at university, I discovered some books on Anthropology Photography and was quite fascinated over the arguments and conceptions of photography in those early days. Statements like  "a native would not be able to recognise themselves in a photo as they have never seen a photograph before" and the classic one "photographs steal the soul of the person photographed"

Today Anthropology has a problematic view of photography as in any posed photograph or if permission is granted to photograph a person, then a photographic collaboration has been recorded with indigenous actors and raises the question of accuracy of a true event?

Photography without permission, is also often considered unethical as the subjects photographed are for scientific study and evaluation as opposed to art or editorial use.

I am exited t see that new anthropology photographic projects are in the making and that documentary photographers have adopted anthropologists approach in the way of getting to know their subjects and establishing a relationship. Although this may not be how many documentary photographers work, but try photographing on your doorstep or community like +J A Mortram  Small Town Inertia then you have to have a relationship first even though it is brief.

When it comes to street photography and working in a candid way and looking at the human condition then one would think that street photography could be of value to the anthropologist? But serious lack of data accompanies most street photographs such as date, place location, ages of subjects etc.

Street Photography is not a field study and by doing anthropology-street photography, you really have set ourself an altered motive to you street photography, so it is no longer street photography in its pure sense!

What's Your Take?

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3 thoughts on “Is Street Photography Good for Anthropology?

  1. Fascinating, thanks for the post – at 3:46 she says they have Native American pictures but out of respect she wont show them on the internet due to privacy.  Why??  But she does show the Africans?!  Can someone explain this to me?  thanks, again.

  2. Hi +János D. Vörös I can only assume that perhaps they had asked for a restriction of some sort, like it is a religious  ceremony or something? Or Perhaps would look bad without the full understanding and could be taken out of context? Anthropology as far as I am aware is full of such difficulties of representation and ethics

  3. Yes, I can imagine all of what you mention – but Africans are not offered the same deal as Native Americans? Why?  And the photos are very old, so who exactly is speaking for the people in the photos?  While, I do understand the reasons for respecting cultural objects – sacred things, mummies, etc – but when did photos themselves get put into that category?  All interesting to learn more about I think.  Thanks again for the video.

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