Posted by: jmacd32 | October 20, 2010

the authority of photography

The lack of “knowledge nor control over the uses and meanings of [one’s] likeness” is a point that James Ryan came to in his chapter “Photographing the Natives” and that our class has dwelled on in almost every meeting (Ryan, 143).  The natives Ryan discusses in his book chapter had no control over their images and the subsequent “scientific” studies of them. Photography had become an authority which could “prove” one’s level of civilization or other such claims. Portman’s studies of the Andamanese used photograph’s as “direct measurements of the intelligence of and temperament of an individual body” (153). Furthermore, in describing the features which represented intelligence he was quoted as saying “intelligence…is usually accompanied by refined good features, particularly nose and mouth” (153). However, the very details that photography was suppose to capture, “good features,” are very subjective and unmeasurable. Here, the Andamanese have no control over the meaning or use of their images. Their images are given meaning by Portman’s subjective view. Today photography is still used to represent other parts of the world to many Americans and other western countries. I wonder how these photographs work as western viewpoints rather than actual representations and how this use of photography Ryan describes still lives on today.


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