Visual knowledge: Spencer and Gillen’s use of photography in "The Native Tribes of Central Australia"

Jan, 2006
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Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal
Journal article
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The Native Tribes of Central Australia, published in 1899, was by far and away the best photographically illustrated ethnography up to that time. It has been suggested that Spencer and Gillen relied on photography because of the practical difficulty they had in communicating with the Arrernte and in understanding what was going on. Here it is argued that the involvement with photography arose out of the intersection of the limits that face verbal communication when in the presence of complex performance, and the significance of visual information within the emerging natural-science fieldwork orientation. However, it seems that Spencer and Gillen’s intellectual understandings of Arrernte life and culture were challenged by the photographs, leading them to deny aspects of the evidence the photographs provided.

Journal title: 
Australian Aboriginal Studies

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