The 2017 competition for the John Collier Jr. Award for Excellence in the Use of Still Photography received a significant number of submissions this year. The judging was a rewarding and engaging task as each submission was impressive in breadth and scope of the research and the variety of types of images, maps, and graphics used in each of the publications. The books were evaluated both for the ways in which they advanced the anthropological study of photography and the ways in which photography was used as equal partner to communication of anthropological material not only as illustration of words. The breadth of the nominations show us how photography is integral to many different kinds of anthropology, from museum anthropology and collections based research through to medical anthropology.
Before we pay tribute to this year’s winner, we would like to highlight the value and merit of the nominees submitted this year:
Tell Me Why my Children Died: Rabies, Indigenous Knowledge and Communicative Justice (Charles Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs, 2016) is a powerful look at an epidemic of probable rabies that killed many Warao people of the Lower Delta area of Venezuela between 2007–2008. A team of medical anthropologists was invited by local people to investigate the mysterious fatal epidemic and the book traces its social pathology from village, through to local and municipal health clinics, interviewing shamans, nurses, doctors, journalists, and international medical researchers. The black and white photographic portraits in this book (and an accompanying exhibition) are used as a device to presence indigenous people, to assert their identities and agency in a context where they face discrimination, even erasure.
Celebrations: Photographs of the Guna Chicha (James Howe (Author, Illustrator), William Morse (Editor), 2016) is comprised of photographs of Chicha ceremonies of the Guna, an ethnic group in Panama, over a forty year period of time. The author took the majority of photographs in the 1970s detailing everyday and ritual life at the time of the fieldwork. The committee commends the author for having text in both English and Spanish, and was impressed with the relationship between the text and the photographs, as well as a clearly written poetic style of text. The author is also to be commended for the exhibition of the photos at the Museo del Canal in Panama for the Guna people and to educate a public at large about Guna rites of passage and world view.
Image Brokers: Visualizing World News in the Age of Digital Circulation (Zeynep Devrim Gursel, 2016) explores the world of photojournalism as it has shifted from analog to digital media and tracks how documentary photographs are mediated by editors, photographic agencies, and festivals as well as by photojournalists. The book contained very few photographs, arguing that it was not possible to maintain the anonymity of its subjects if their public images were displayed and also drawing attention to the commercial framing of photographic images and the constraints of copyright regimes in ameliorating the perception of free circulation that tends to accompany our understanding of digital media. While less focused on the photographs themselves, the book significantly contributes to our understanding of how images circulate and produce visual meaning and value, particularly around international conflict.
Molas: Dress, Identity, Culture (Diana Marks, 2016) is an impressive overview of the history, aesthetics, techniques, and style of Panamanian molas drawing on comprehensive archival, musicological, and ethnographic fieldwork. The book engages with a wide body of literature including an extensive review of anthropological studies of the Kuna as well as a thorough discussion of dress history and fashion and makes good use of full-color photographs—both contemporary and archival—to demonstrate production processes, iconography, and aesthetics of molas. Impressive are its very high production values, consisting of beautifully photographed color images of molas taken for the book, mixed with archival images of mola production and uses and the author’s hands-on approach to the making of molas.
Street Style: An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging (Brent Luvaas, 2016) is an innovative study of international fashion photo-blogging, which the author has not only studied but also participated in over the course of many years. Illustrated with many full-color images the book explores photo-blogging in many different locales, highlighting the shared aesthetic sensibilities of both fashion and the style of photography, which he argues can be traced back to broader traditions of urban documentary photography. The study is cutting edge about creation of contemporary identity and how people construct their images in the west. It is a commendable fresh approach to ethnography with beautiful color reproductions and an aesthetically interesting presentation.
The 2017 winner of the John Collier Jr. Award for Excellence in Visual Anthropology is Where the Roads All End: Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari by Ilisa Barbash (2016: Peabody Museum Press of Harvard University).
Where the Roads All End draws on the Harvard Peabody Museum’s archival collection consisting of the photographs, papers, films, and memorabilia of the Marshall family’s numerous expeditions to South Africa. The book is beautifully produced in full color, and contextualizes the Marshall photographic archive within the broader collections of film and text, as well as anthropology and popular culture of the time. By excavating the archive, using diary entries, images, archival material, and film stills, Barbash builds a picture of anthropology as both a professional and amateur practice. Starting outside of the academia, several of the Marshall family became scholars, writers, and photographer/film makers. They also worked with a series of professional photographers, each with their own style and gaze. Drawing on the broader visual anthropological literature, Barbash demonstrates how their pictorial engagement within the Kalahari developed over time, drawing together strands of popular image making, visual anthropology, and documentary in dialogue with their San interlocutors. Barbash is critically engaged with the different genres that emerged within this photographic collection—most especially the romantic view of the indigenous hunter-gatherer—but her careful historicization of these images locates this view in a history and does not neglect the contemporary situation for these people whose way of life was rapidly changing. The book is not only a critique of the substantial worthiness of the Marshall archive as a resource but is a thoughtful study of how these images were and are used to foster understanding of the culture and very importantly how that has changed over time.
Classic in its presentation and approach in handling the Marshall archival materials, these documents of the Marshall family, which span multi-generations, this book celebrates and keeps relevant their lifetime achievement as a family to the field of visual research. With its beautiful production values, the author—through diary entries, images, film stills, and the wonderful photographs taken by the Marshalls and their photographer collaborations—tells the fascinating narrative of how the Marshalls started their “family business.” Stories many have not heard before are told about their time in Africa, humanize this incredible legacy. Barbash had the good fortune of curating this important collection of films, images, and papers of the Marshall family. She effectively uses quotes from the photographers to give their views about the images, their methods of photography and cataloging visual records all of which will help future researchers interpret the images. Included are discussions of how they photographed individuals and how their techniques changed and matured over time. The author looks at the political situation and how that affected their photography.
Richard Freeman, Haidy Geismar, Andrea Heckman, and Joanna Scherer are the 2017 John Collier Jr. Award committee members.
Cite as: Freeman, Richard, Haidy Geismar, Andrea Heckman, and Joanna Scherer. 2017. “2017 John Collier Jr. Award for Use of Photography in Anthropology.” Anthropology News website, September 18, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.625