Visual anthropology


Visual anthropology is a subfield of
social anthropology Social anthropology is the study of patterns of behaviour in human societies and cultures. It is the dominant constituent of anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous a ...
that is concerned, in part, with the study and production of
ethnographic Ethnography (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 ...

photography, film and, since the mid-1990s,
new media New media are forms of media that are computational and rely on computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can perform generic sets of ...
. More recently it has been used by historians of science and visual culture. Although sometimes wrongly conflated with
ethnographic film An ethnographic film is a non-fiction film, often similar to a documentary film, historically dealing with non-Western people, and sometimes associated with anthropology. Definitions of the term are not definitive. Some academics claim it is more ...
, visual anthropology encompasses much more, including the anthropological study of all visual representations such as dance and other kinds of performance, museums and archiving, all visual arts, and the production and
reception Reception is a noun form of ''receiving'', or ''to receive'' something, such as art, experience, information, people, products, or vehicles. It is often used in the following contexts: Astrology * Reception (astrology), in astrology, where one p ...
mass media Mass media refers to a diverse array of media Media may refer to: Physical means Communication * Media (communication), tools used to deliver information or data ** Advertising media, various media, content, buying and placement fo ...
. Histories and analyses of representations from many cultures are part of visual anthropology: research topics include
sandpainting Sandpainting is the art of pouring coloured sands, and powdered pigments from minerals or crystals, or pigments from other natural or synthetic sources onto a surface to make a fixed or unfixed sand painting. Unfixed sand paintings have a long est ...
s, tattoos, sculptures and
relief Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term ''wikt:relief, relief'' is from the Latin verb ''relevo'', to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is to give the ...
cave painting Cave paintings are a type of parietal art In archaeology Archaeology or archeology is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. Archaeology is often considered a branch of socio-cultural anthropo ...

cave painting
scrimshaw Scrimshaw is scrollwork, engravings, and carvings done in bone or ivory. Typically it refers to the artwork created by whalers, engraved on the byproducts of whales, such as bones or cartilage. It is most commonly made out of the bone A bone ...

, jewelry,
hieroglyphics Egyptian hieroglyphs () were the formal writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent ...
, paintings and photographs. Also within the province of the subfield are studies of human vision, properties of media, the relationship of visual form and function, and applied, collaborative uses of visual representations.
Multimodal anthropology Multimodal anthropology is an emerging subfield of social cultural anthropology that encompasses anthropological research and knowledge production across multiple traditional and new media platforms and practices including film, video, photography, ...
describes the latest turn in the subfield, which considers how emerging technologies like immersive
virtual reality Virtual reality (VR) is a Simulation, simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality include entertainment (particularly video games), education (such as medical or mil ...

virtual reality
augmented reality Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including v ...
, mobile apps,
social networking A social networking service (also social networking site or social media) is an online platform which people use to build social networks or social relationships with other people who share similar personal or career interests, activities, back ...
, gaming along with film, photography and art is reshaping anthropological research, practice and teaching.


Even before the emergence of anthropology as an academic discipline in the 1880s, ethnologists used photography as a tool of research. Anthropologists and non-anthropologists conducted much of this work in the spirit of salvage ethnography or attempts to record for posterity the ways-of-life of societies assumed doomed to extinction (see, for instance, the Native American photography of Edward Curtis) The history of anthropological filmmaking is intertwined with that of non-fiction and documentary filmmaking, although ethnofiction may be considered as a genuine subgenre of
ethnographic film An ethnographic film is a non-fiction film, often similar to a documentary film, historically dealing with non-Western people, and sometimes associated with anthropology. Definitions of the term are not definitive. Some academics claim it is more ...
. Some of the first motion pictures of the ethnographic other were made with Louis Lumière, Lumière equipment (''Promenades des Éléphants à Phnom Penh'', 1901). Robert Flaherty, probably best known for his films chronicling the lives of Arctic peoples (''Nanook of the North'', 1922), became a filmmaker in 1913 when his supervisor suggested that he take a camera and equipment with him on an expedition north. Flaherty focused on "traditional" Inuit ways of life, omitting with few exceptions signs of modernity among his film subjects (even to the point of refusing to use a rifle to help kill a walrus his informants had harpooned as he filmed them, according to Barnouw; this scene made it into ''Nanook'' where it served as evidence of their "pristine" culture). This pattern would persist in many ethnographic films to follow (see as an example Robert Gardner's ''Dead Birds (1965 film), Dead Birds''). By the 1940s and early 1950s, anthropologists such as Hortense Powdermaker, Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead (Trance and Dance in Bali, 1952) and Mead and Rhoda Metraux, eds., (''The Study of Culture at a Distance'', 1953) were bringing anthropological perspectives to bear on mass media and visual representation. Karl G. Heider notes in his revised edition of ''Ethnographic Film'' (2006) that after Bateson and Mead, the history of visual anthropology is defined by "the seminal works of four men who were active for most of the second half of the twentieth century: Jean Rouch, John Marshall (filmmaker), John Marshall, Robert Gardner (anthropologist), Robert Gardner, and Timothy Asch, Tim Asch. By focusing on these four, we can see the shape of ethnographic film" (p. 15). Many, including Peter Loizos, would add the name of filmmaker/author David MacDougall to this select group. In 1966, filmmaker Sol Worth and anthropologist John Adair (anthropologist), John Adair taught a group of Navajo Indians in Arizona how to capture 16mm film. The hypothesis was that artistic choices made by the Navajo would reflect the 'perceptual structure' of the Navajo world. The goals of this experiment were primarily ethnographic and theoretical. Decades later, however, the work has inspired a variety of participatory and applied anthropological initiatives - ranging from photovoice to virtual museum collections - in which cameras are given to local collaborators as a strategy for empowerment. In the United States, Visual Anthropology first found purchase in an academic setting in 1958 with the creation of the Film Study Center at Harvard University, Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. In the United Kingdom, Th
Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology
at the University of Manchester was established in 1987 to offer training in anthropology and film-making to MA, MPhil and PhD students and whose graduates have produced over 300 films to date. John Collier (anthropologist), John Collier, Jr. wrote the first standard textbook in the field in 1967, and many visual anthropologists of the 1970s relied on semiologists like Roland Barthes for essential critical perspectives. Contributions to the history of Visual Anthropology include those of Emilie de Brigard (1967), Fadwa El Guindi (2004), and Beate Engelbrecht, ed. (2007). A more recent history that understands visual anthropology in a broader sense, edited by Marcus Banks (anthropologist), Marcus Banks and Jay Ruby, is ''Made To Be Seen: Historical Perspectives on Visual Anthropology''. Turning the anthropological lens on India provides a counterhistory of visual anthropology (Khanduri 2014). At present, the Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA) represents the subfield in the United States as a section of the American Anthropological Association, the AAA. In the United States, ethnographic films are shown each year at the Margaret Mead Film Festival as well as at the AAA's annual Film and Media Festival. In Europe, ethnographic films are shown at the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival in the UK, The Jean Rouch Film Festival in France and Ethnocineca in Austria. Dozens of other international festivals are listed regularly in the ''Newsletter of the Nordic Anthropological Film Association [NAFA]''.

Timeline and breadth of prehistoric visual representation

While art historians are clearly interested in some of the same objects and processes, visual anthropology places these artifacts within a holistic cultural context. Archaeologists, in particular, use phases of visual development to try to understand the spread of humans and their cultures across contiguous landscapes as well as over larger areas. By 10,000 BP, a system of well-developed pictographs was in use by boating peoplesJim Bailey, ''Sailing to Paradise'' and was likely instrumental in the development of navigation and writing, as well as a medium of storytelling and artistic representation. Early visual representations often show the female form, with clothing appearing on the female body around 28,000 BP, which archaeologists know now corresponds with the invention of weaving in Old Europe. This is an example of the holistic nature of visual anthropology: a figurine depicting a woman wearing diaphanous clothing is not merely an object of art, but a window into the customs of dress at the time, household organization (where they are found), transfer of materials (where the clay came from) and processes (when did firing clay become common), when did weaving begin, what kind of weaving is depicted and what other evidence is there for weaving, and what kinds of cultural changes were occurring in other parts of human life at the time. Visual anthropology, by focusing on its own efforts to make and understand film, is able to establish many principles and build theories about human visual representation in general.

List of visual anthropology academic programs

* Aarhus University: Master in Visual Anthropology * Australian National University: The Research School of Humanities and the Art
Centre for Visual Anthropology
* California State University, Chico: Home to th
Advanced Laboratory for Visual Anthropology (ALVA)
which offers students use o
RED Digital Cinema cameras
in it

program. Students receive a four-fields degree but complete an ethnographic film as partial fulfillment of their thesis requirement.

is also available for students who would like to pursue Visual Anthropology, and make ethnographic films as Undergraduates. *Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Ecuador: offers
master program in visual anthropology
*Free University of Berlin:
M.A. in Visual and Media Anthropology
*Harvard University: Harvard offers
PhD in Social Anthropology with Media
in conjunction with it
Sensory Ethnography Lab
*Heidelberg University: The chair o
Visual and Media Anthropology
offers BA and MA courses in the field of visual and media anthropology. *New York University:''
The Program in Culture and Media
*Pontifical Catholic University of Peru: The Social Sciences Department at PUCP offers a two-yea
MA program in Visual Anthropology
* San Francisco State University
Visual Anthropology program
Peter Biella
*Tallinn University
MA in audiovisual ethnography
*Towson University: Undergraduate track i

*Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana
Laboratorio de Antropología Visual (LAV)
*Universitat de Barcelona
Postgraduate and Master's programs in Visual Anthropology
*University of British Columbia
The Ethnographic Film Unit at UBC
*University College London: offer
postgraduate courses
that can be taken as part of a master's degree for credit or they can be audited with a certificate of completion provided. *University of Kent: The Department of Anthropology offers
Masters in Visual Anthropology
that explores traditional and experimental means of using visual images to produce/represent anthropological knowledge. Note (Nov 2020): this is no longer offered. Link is to web archive version. *University of Leiden: offers the Bachelor cours
Visual Methods
Visual Ethnography as a Method
as part the Master's programme. It teaches students how to use photography, digital video and sound recording both as research and reporting tools as part of ethnographic research. *Goldsmiths College, University of London, Goldsmith's College: The anthropology department offers a
in Visual Anthropology. *University of Manchester: Th
Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology
offers MA, MPhil and PhD courses that combine practical film training, editing and production, photography, sound recording, art and social activism. Established in 1987, the Granada Centre's postgraduate programme has produced over 300 documentary films. Its students have made films for numerous international broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4. Manchester includes an Oscar nominee, two BAFTA winners, and a BAFTA nominee among its alumni. *University of Münster
Visual Anthropology, Media & Documentary Practices
Programme which accompanies employment. Master of Arts (M.A.) degree within 6 semesters. Provides skills in the area of visual anthropology, documentary films, photography, documentary art, culture media and media anthropology. *University of New South Wales: offers
PhD in Visual Anthropology
*University of Oxford
The Institute of Social & Cultural Anthropology
collaborates with th

to offer the highly ranked one-year MSc and two-year MPhil i
Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology
and also awards DPhil degrees with numerou
competitive funding opportunities
* University of South Carolina offers
Graduate Certificate in Visual Anthropology
for graduate students enrolled in M.A. or Ph.D. programs in Media Arts and Anthropology but which also serves graduate students in such areas as Education, the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, as well as Sociology and Geography. * University of Southern California - ''USC Center for Visual Anthropology'': The MAVA (Master of Arts in Visual Anthropology) was a 2–3 year terminal Masters program from 1984 to 2001, which produced over sixty ethnographic documentaries. In 2001, it was merged into a Certificate in Visual Anthropology given alongside the Ph.D. in Anthropology. A new digitally based program was created in the Fall of 2009 as
new one year MA program in Visual Anthropology
Since 2009, the program has produced twenty five new ethnographic documentaries. Many have screened at film festivals and several are in distribution. *University of Tromsø: The University of Tromsø offers a program i
Visual Culture Studies
*Western Kentucky University: Western Kentucky University offers a BA in Cultural Anthropology with a focus on Visual Anthropology *University of Münster, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (University of Münster)
Visual Anthropology, Media & Documentary Practices
Programme which accompanies employment. Master of Arts (M.A.) degree within 6 semesters. Provides skills in the area of visual anthropology, documentary films, photography, documentary art, culture media and media anthropology.

List of films

See also

* Ethnofiction * Ethnographic film * Gregory Bateson * John Collier Jr. * Multimodal anthropology, Multimodal Anthropology * Visual Anthropology (journal) * Visual sociology



* Alloa, Emmanuel (ed.) ''Penser l'image II. Anthropologies du visuel.'' Dijon: Presses du réel 2015. (in French).
Banks, Marcus
Morphy, Howard (Hrsg.): ''Rethinking Visual Anthropology''. New Haven: Yale University Press 1999. *Marcus Banks and
David Zeitlyn
"Visual methods in social research"
(Second Edition), Sage: London * Barbash, Ilisa and Lucien Taylor. ''Cross-cultural Filmmaking: A Handbook for Making Documentary and Ethnographic Films and Videos.'' Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. * Collier, Malcolm et al.: ''Visual Anthropology. Photography As a Research Method.'' University of Mexico 1986.
Daniels, Inge
2010. The Japanese House: Material Culture in the Modern Home. Oxford: Berg Publishers. *Coote, Jeremy and Anthony Shelton. 1994. Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics. Clarendon Press. *Edwards, Elisabeth (Hrsg.): ''Anthropology and Photography 1860–1920''. New Haven, London 1994, Nachdruck. *Engelbrecht, Beate (ed.). ''Memories of the Origins of Ethnographic Film.'' Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang Verlag, 2007. *Grimshaw, Anna. ''The Ethnographer's Eye: Ways of Seeing in Modern Anthropology.'' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Harris, Claire
2012. The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet. University of Chicago Press.
Harris, Claire
and Michael O'Hanlon. 2013. 'The Future of the Ethnographic Museum,' ''Anthropology Today'', 29(1). pp. 8–12. *Heider, Karl G. ''Ethnographic Film (Revised Edition).'' Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. *Hockings, Paul (ed.). "Principles of Visual Anthropology." 3rd edn. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003. *David MacDougall, MacDougall, David. ''Transcultural Cinema.'' Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. * Martinez, Wilton. 1992. “Who Constructs Anthropological Knowledge? Toward a Theory of Ethnographic Film Spectatorship.” In ''Film as Ethnography'', D. Turton and P. Crawford, (Eds.), pp. 130-161. Manchester: Manchester University Press. * Margaret Mead, Mead, Margaret: Anthropology and the camera. In: Morgan, Willard D. (Hg.): Encyclopedia of photography. New York 1963.
Morton, Chris
and Elizabeth Edwards (eds.) 2009. Photography, Anthropology and History: Expanding the Frame. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing
Peers, Laura
2003. Museums and Source Communities: A Routledge Reader, Routledge * Pink, Sarah: ''Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media and Representation in Research.'' London: Sage Publications Ltd. 2006. * Pinney, Christopher: ''Photography and Anthropology.'' London: Reaktion Books 2011. *Harald E. L. Prins, Prins, Harald E.L.. "Visual Anthropology." pp. 506–525. In ''A Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians.'' Ed. T. Biolsi. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. *Harald E. L. Prins, Prins, Harald E.L., and Jay Ruby, Ruby, Jay eds. "The Origins of Visual Anthropology." ''Visual Anthropology Review''. Vol. 17 (2), 2001–2002. *Jay Ruby, Ruby, Jay. ''Picturing Culture: Essays on Film and Anthropology.'' Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, . *Sol Worth, Worth, Sol, Adair John. "Through Navajo Eyes". Indiana University Press; 1972.

Further reading

Visual Anthropology
- Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, article by Jay Ruby
Visual anthropology in the digital mirror: Computer-assisted visual anthropology
article by Michael D. Fischer and David Zeitlyn, then both University of Kent at Canterbury * Legends Asch and Myerhoff Inspire A New Generation of Visual Anthropologists - article by Susan Andrew

* Pink, Sarah. "Doing Visual Ethnography:Images, Media, and Representation". Sage, London, 2012 *Banks, Marcus and Ruby, Jay. "Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. University of Chicago Press, 2011

External links

; Organizations
European Association of Social Anthropologists Visual Anthropology Network

SVA Society for Visual Anthropology

Center for Visual Anthropology of Peru / Centro de Antropología Visual del Perú - CAVP
; Publications
Visual Anthropology Review
* Visual Anthropology (journal), ''Visual Anthropology'' (journal) ; Resources

OVERLAP: Laboratory of Visual Anthropology

Visual Anthropology Archive

Visual Anthropology Films & Educational Resource Library

National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives
- collect and preserve historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world's cultures and the history of anthropology.
Audio-Visual Resources
(from the website of Prof. Alessandro Duranti, anthropology department, UCLA)
Films of anthropological and other "ancestors"

A kiosk of films and sounds in Ethnomusicology - Robert Garfias

Documentary Educational Resources
(Visual Anthropology Films & Filmmakers)
Documentary "El mal visto". Interpretation about the evil eye from the visual anthropology.
Visual anthtropology

Visual Anthropology of Japan

Artpologist an Art project using Art and Anthropology

Ethnographic Terminalia
- A curatorial collective and exhibition series. {{DEFAULTSORT:Visual Anthropology Visual anthropology, Photography by genre