Ethnography Through a Lens

This weeks post is a bit different. As a student newly introduce to the field of visual anthropology a excursion into methods is only natural. This week in class we watched two documentaries on the work and experiences of two very different photographers Annie Lebovitz and James Natchwey. Their work can give us insight into what to do when representing culture through a camera lens. These two photographers are different in their subject matter, personality and approach yet both contribute a perspective that can be integrated into Visual Anthropology.

 Annie Lebovitz began her work taking pictures of people in their everyday life. Many of her early photographs we remarkable for their ability to capture and portray people in the patterns of their daily lives. It wasn’t untill later in her career that she began working at creating pictures. Perhaps the most notable portion of Lebovitz’s work, that pertains to ethnography, is her idea of incorporating her self into people’s lives. For and ethnographer it is imperative to almost become a part of the scenery, or at least the daily activity of the people you wish to study. In the case of  Lebovitz she was not studying, simply photographing, however the concept is the same.

 James Nachtwey, a war photographer, can provide the aspiring visual anthropologist with yet another set of guidelines for approaching taking pictures. As a war photographer Nachtwey notes that he is often taking pictures of situations that would not normally be acceptable to photograph. He emphasizes the respect he tries to show the subjects of his photographs. It is this respect that allows him to gain the consent he needs to take many of his photographs. The idea of showing respect and gaining consent is central to any anthropologists work. As an anthropologist you find yourself observing, photographing, and explaining cultural situations that may not generally be open to the public. Without consent and respect in these situations people may be negatively impacted.
Although what they do is not technically defined as anthropology these two artists can shed some light on how to go about representing a people through a lens.
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