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Second Sight

Second Sight: Ethnographic Photography at Washington University was an exhibition that featured the works of ethnographic photographers in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University.

“The Photographer’s ‘second sight’ does not consist in ‘seeing’ but in being there.”

Roland Barthes

Conventionally, ethnography is defined as “writing about people and cultures,” but the word’s etymology – to represent people and cultures – reveals other possibilities.

The written word alone has never been enough to describe the field of anthropology; for nearly as long as anthropology has been a discipline of European and North American academic scholarship, anthropologists have been photographing people, places, cultures, and customs. Like academic anthropology itself, the camera was a forceful tool of colonial expansion with the capacity to report on local peoples and customs to centers of power.

The pen and the camera were considered tools of the objective observer, free from bias. Today, ethnography – written, photographed, or otherwise – is still fraught with questions of ethical engagement, now tending toward collaborative projects with our interlocutors. We are always present, whether we are in the frame or not. This collection emphasizes the “being there” or being present that is indispensable to the work of ethnography.

Rachel Sender, Graduate Student, Field Season, Daily Commute Knysna, South Africa