Anthropology and Photography, 1860-1920

Edited by Elizabeth Edwards

View Inside Price: $37.50

October 28, 1992
ISBN: 9780300051681

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Published in association with the Royal Anthropological Institute, London

Out of Print

Since its beginnings, photography has been a valuable resource for anthropologists in the recording of ethnographic data. This book, published in conjunction with the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) London, looks at the significance and relevance of still protography in British anthropology from about 1860 until 1920. It examines how photography provides evidence of the past and how this evidence is used in conjunction with more traditional forms of anthropological information. And it considers the reflexive and critical nature of the photographic “way of seeing” within anthropology.


The book opens with five substantial essays on the nature of photography, visual perception, theoretical and historical approaches to anthropological photography, and the photograph as a document. These are followed by twenty shorter essays by leading anthropologists and historians with special interest in visual representation. The essays examine the content and historical contexts of a range of 157 remarkable photographs, drawn mainly from RAI collections, many reproduced for the first time.


The book as a whole establishes the intellectual and anthropological frameworks for the analysis of specific photographs and articulates a body of ideas about photography and the way in which it was perceived in anthropology. The volume encompasses many ways of thinking from the theoretical to the ethnographic and from the historical to the “post-modern.” This pluralist approach stresses the complex nature of the photographic message and its interpretation within anthropology in a way that is as relevant to modern material as it is to the historical.

Elizabeth Edwards is archives curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford.

"Illuminate[s] the ways in which political incorrectness has been built into so-called scientific photography."—Vicki Goldberg, New York Times Book Reviews, Christmas Books Issue

"Erudite. . . .analytical, and yet highly philosophical. . . .this extremely valuable study fosters a clearer perspective on the subject than other texts. . . . Highly useful for students in a variety of fields, including library science and museum science."—Library Journal

"Explores the use of still photography in British anthropology; 150+ photos."—Publishers Weekly

"Fascinating evidence of how one field has been radically altered by the recognition of photography's inherent subjectivity. The theoretical essays and case studies in Anthropology & Photography are not only of importance to anthropologists...they show how the interpretive critical positions of today are being used to reconstruct our understandings of both the past and the present."—Andy Grundberg, New York Newsday

"[I] found much in [this book] that was new and engrossing. . . . We should be grateful to Yale and the RAI for this brave start on a long enterprise."—Tom Phillips, Anthropology Today

"Anthropology and Photography . . . will play an important role in the ongoing recasting of anthropological history. . . . [It] should be read by all those interested in the themes of social construction that knot this important collection together."—Douglas Harper, Science

"This excellent, thought-provoking volume contributes to understanding the reading of images by examining anthropological photography in historical, political, and social contexts."—Choice

"For museum anthropologists and curators of exhibitions, reading this excellent book should be a must. . . . A relevant and excellent contribution to the writing of the history of anthropology as well as to the interpretation of anthropological photographs. Elizabeth Edwards ought to be commended for pursuing this project. In a field which is presently developing rapidly the essays give readers multiple takes on the topic."—Christraud M. Geary, Museum Anthropology

"This book will be warmly received and widely read, and it should be adopted in courses of all kinds, particularly those concerned with the history of anthropology, of photography, and of colonial domination."—Peter Loizos