Friday, November 25, 2011

American Anthropologist :: Viewpoints

Mary Strong, Text Editor
Leana Wilder, Visual Editor
Buy It Now
Visual Anthropology Book Review
Viewpoints: Visual Anthropologists at Work edited by Mary Strong and Laena Wilder

Viewpoints: Visual Anthropologists at Work provides a readily accessible survey of the types of work conducted by visual anthropologists. Admirably showcasing practitioners’ struggles and successes alike, this volume is organized into four major sections and serves well as an introductory survey text. Particular strengths include a highly accessible layout comprised of large glossy pages, numerous images with extensive captioning, and broad margins for annotation. Also noteworthy, most chapters conclude with suggested exercises, projects, and assignments for practicing different approaches to visual anthropology. Indeed, several such projects could easily be linked to form the backbone of a visual anthropology course or lab. Particularly strong chapters include chapters 1–4, which provide a rich survey of the possibilities of anthropological photography; chapter 6, which excels in unpacking the construction of ethnographic film; and chapter 7, which explicates film and multimedia's evocative potentials. Less mainstream approaches are particularly well served by chapters 9 and 10. The glossary of terms (pp. 388–397) and persons (pp. 397–405) provides helpful references and resources for students.

The first and strongest section, “Photography Now,” provides three perspectives on creating and working with still images. Chapter 1, by Malcolm Collier, explores photography as a “formal tool for social and cultural research” (p. 13). This includes making and analyzing photographs, photo elicitation, and integrating words and images. Chapter 2, by Laena Wilder, highlights photography's evocative potential, the importance of rapport with those photographed, and the photographer's responsibility to those photographed. Rounding out this section, in chapter 3 Richard Freeman uses text and image to persuasively and beautifully illustrate photography's narrative potential.

Whereas section 1 focuses on photography, section 2, “Images from the Past,” provides two perspectives on working with extant photographs. In chapter 4, Joanna Cohan Scherer uses photographs of North American Indians from the Smithsonian to draw attention to the importance of critically evaluating archival images. In contrast, chapter 5, by Julie Flowerday, highlights the potential of historical images for facilitating historical comparisons.

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