Reading Seminar on Visual Anthropology: Using Images in the Humanities and Social Sciences With Prof. Christopher Pinney

- Christopher Pinney

Discussion Type: Reading Seminar | Date: 01 Aug 2017 | Time: 10:00 AM


Reading Seminar on Visual Anthropology: Using Images in the Humanities and Social Sciences
With Prof. Christopher Pinney

Organized by Martin Chautari during August 2017

This eight-session seminar course is designed to introduce students to recent debates within visual anthropology and what has been called the “pictorial turn.” Its starting point is that images have conventionally been used as “illustrations” of conclusions reached “by other means.” Using images as originary “evidence” is not easy, but might be possible. The course aims to provide some of the tools that will enable us to see this evidence.

We will explore debates with Visual Anthropology, within Art History, and Photographic Theory. These will be placed in the broader context of current transformations within social theory. Photographic practice will be explored against the backdrop of wider visual cultural practices before we investigate South Asian photographic practices and photography in a Himalayan context. Finally, we will ask how we can use photographs or our own research projects, concluding with a practical interpretive session in which reading group participants will discuss archival, or domestic images, in which they have a particular interest.


Christopher Pinney is an anthropologist and art historian. He is currently Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London. He has held visiting positions at the Australian National University, University of Chicago, University of Cape Town, Northwestern University, Boğaziçi University (Istanbul), and Jagiellonian University (Krakow). His research interests cover the art and visual cultures of South Asia, with a particular focus on the history of photography and chromolithography in India. He has also worked on industrial labor and Dalit goddess possession. He gave the Panizzi Lectures at the British Library in 2006, the Ramakrisha Nataraja Lecture in 2010 (Hyderabad), the Gerbrands Memorial Lecture (Leiden) in 2014 and the M.N. Srinivas Memorial Lecture (London) in 2015. Amongst his publications are Camera Indica (1997), Photos of the Gods (2004), The Coming of Photography in India (2008), Photography and Anthropology (2011) and Artisan Camera: Studio Photography from Central India (2013, with Suresh Punjabi). Lessons from Hell: Printing and Punishment in India is due from Marg in 2017, and The Waterless Sea: A World History of Mirages is due from Reaktion in 2018.

Seminar dates: 8am-11am Tuesdays and Thursdays in August 2017, twice a week (1st, 3rd, 8th, 10th, 15th, 17th, 22nd, and 24th August 2017).

Venue: Martin Chautari Seminar Hall, Thapathali, Kathmandu 
Tel: 4238050/4102027

Reading List

1. The Role of the Vsual in Anthropology, Sociology and History
The humanities and social sciences were dominated for much of the 20th century by “linguistic” paradigms. Current work reflects what has been termed the “pictorial turn.” We will explore the potential, and the difficulties, in assuming that images may have “needs” or be able “to tell their own stories.”

W.J.T. Mitchell, “What Do Pictures Really Want?” October 77, Summer 1996, 71-82.
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, “The Photograph, Reconsidered,” PIX, volume 1, February 2011.
Christopher Pinney, “Four Types of Visual Culture” in Chris Tilley et al. eds., Handbook of Material Culture, Sage, 2006, pp. 131-145.

2. History of Visual Anthropology
Visual anthropology has always oscillated between an anthropological method (primarily through film) and the anthropological study of visual practices.

David MacDougall, “The Visual in Anthropology,” in Marcus Banks and Howard Morphy, Rethinking Visual Anthropology, Yale, 1997, pp. 276-279. 2008-02-13.4228621179/file
Christopher Pinney, Photography and Anthropology, Reaktion, 2011, Chapter 2, “The Trouble with Photography,” pp. 63-105.

3. Visual Anthropology in South Asia
Later sessions will explore photography specifically. But photographic practice needs to be situated within a wider field of what has been called the “inter-ocular.”

Shaila Bhatti and Christopher Pinney, “Opti-Clash: Modes of Visuality in India” in Isabelle Clark-Deceseed, A Companion to the Anthropology of India, Blackwell, 2011, pp. 225-240.
Christopher Pinney, “Photos of Gods”: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India, Reaktion, 2004, Chapter 4 “Lithographs and the Camera in Bombay and Delhi,” pp. 59-78.
Robert Gardner and Akos Oster, Making Forest of Bliss: Intention, Circumstance and Chance in Nonfiction Film, Harvard, 2002.

4. Towards a History of Photography in South Asia
How should we conceptualize the relation between the practice of “photography” and the location of “South Asia”?

Christopher Pinney, Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs, Reaktion, 1997, Chapter 3 “Chambers of Dreams,” pp. 108-209.
Christopher Pinney, The Coming of Photography in India. British Library, 2008, especially Chapter 3, “Photography as Prophecy,” pp. 103-160.

5. Towards a History of Himalayan Photography
Following from the previous topic, how best should we conceive of the relation of Nepali photography to “photography” and/or “South Asian photography”?

Pratyoush Onta, “A Suggestive History of the First Century of Photographic Consumption in Kathmandu,” Studies in Nepali History and Society 3(1), pp. 181-212, June 1998. 
Pix, Nepal issue,
Prakash A. Raj, Portraits and Photographs from Nepal, Nabeen, 1994.
Padma Prakash Shrestha, Nepal Rediscovered: The Rana Court 1846-1951, Serindia, 1986.

6. Culture versus Techne
Photography is clearly both a technical process and a cultural practice. But analyses usually stress one aspect rather than the other. We will explore what is at stake in this balance.

Judith Mara Gutman, Through Indian Eyes, Oxford University Press, 1982.
David MacDougall, “Photo Hierarchicus: Signs and Mirrors in Indian Photography,” Visual Anthropology 5(2), 1992, pp. 102-29.
Ashish Rajadhyaksha, “The Phalke Effect: Conflict of Traditional Form and Modern Technology,” Journal of Arts and Ideas, 1987, 14/15, pp. 47-78.
James F. Weiner, “Televisualist Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 38(2), 1997, pp. 197-235.

7. Photo-Elicitation and Interpretation (practical methods)
Images, supposedly worth more than a thousand words often turn out to be frustratingly mute. How can we get them to talk, or get others to talk for them?

Yannick Geffroy, “Family Photographs: A Visual Heritage,” Visual Anthropology 3, 1990, pp. 367-409.
Judith Binney and Gillian Chaplin, “Taking the Photographs Back Home: The Recovery of a Maori History,” Visual Anthropology 4, 1991, pp. 431-442.
Kunda Dixit, A People War: Images of the Nepal Conflict 1996-2006, Kathmandu, Nepa-laya.
Suresh Punjabi and Christopher Pinney, Artisan Camera: Studio Photography from Central India, Tara Books, 2013.

8. Visual Histories (practical session)
We will conclude the course with a session in which participants bring archival or personal images for discussion in the light of the perspectives we have discussed over the course of the month.

- Christopher Pinney

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