Jay Ruby's Home Page

"Remember that there are parts of what it most concerns you to know which I cannot describe to you; you must come with me and see for yourselves. The vision is for him who will see it."


A Biographical Note

Jay Ruby, a retired professor of Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, has been exploring the relationship between cultures and pictures for the past thirty years. His research interests revolve around the application of anthropological insights to the production and comprehension of photographs, film, and television. For the past two decades, he has conducted ethnographic studies of pictorial communication in a rural American community. He was educated at the University of California, Los Angeles, received a B.A. in History [1960], an M.A. [1962], and Ph.D. [1969] in Anthropology. A founding member and past president of the Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication, past president and trustee of International Film Seminars, Ruby holds advisory and board memberships in a number of national and international organizations and is president of the Center for Visual Communication, a research co-operative. He has held visiting lectureships at the University of Pennsylvania in Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Rutgers University in Art, and in Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Princeton University. Ruby co-produced, directed and wrote two award winning ethnographic documentaries, A Country Auction [1984] and Can I Get A Quarter? [1985] and served as consultant, advisor, and researcher on numerous films and television programs. Ruby has curated photographic exhibitions since 1974 including Images of the USA - Three European Photographers [1985], Fragments of A Dream: The Pittsburgh Photographs of W. Eugene Smith [1988] at the Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia;Reflections on Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania Landscape Photography for Lehigh University [1986]; Something To Remember You By: Death and Photography in America at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach [1994]; and Not a Bad Shot: The Photographs of Francis Cooper, Woodmere Gallery, Philadelphia [1996]. In 1968 he founded the Conference on Visual Anthropology, an international event he directed until 1980. Included in his diverse film/video programming experience are the Flaherty Film Seminar, The Arden House Public Television Seminar, and The Annenberg International Conferences on Visual Communication. Ruby has been trained, conducted research, and published extensively in archaeology, popular music, film, television, and photography. Since 1960 he has edited a variety of scholarly and popular journals on American archaeology, popular culture, and visual anthropology including Studies in Visual Communication. and Visual Anthropology . He has edited a number of books including A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology [University of Penn Press, 1981], Robert Flaherty, A Biography [University of Penn Press, 1982], Image Ethics [Oxford University Press, 1988] and Image Ethics in the Digital World.[2003, University of Minnesota Press] both co-edited with Larry Gross and John Katz. His writings have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Japanese, and Estonian. Among his single authored works are Secure The Shadow: Death and Photography in America, (1995, MIT Press), The Photographic World of Francis Cooper: Not A Bad Shot, a book length study of Francis Cooper, a nineteenth century Pennsylvanian photographer (1999,Pennsylvania State University Press) and Picturing Culture: Essays on Film and Anthropology (2000, University of Chicago Press). In 2006 he published four CD-ROM multimedia and one DVD ethnographies about his hometown, Oak Park, IL titled Oak Park Stories. See his web site at astro.temple.edu/~ruby/opp for details. The ethnographies are distributed by DER of Watertown, MA (www.der.org). He is currently completing a study of an arts community in Malibu, CA

Web Sites

Oak Park Stories Project

Country Auction Revisited Film Project

Web Archive in Visual Anthropology

The Anthropology of Visual Communication at Temple University - 1968 to 2004

Coffee House Positano

8 Fourth Street
Mifflintown, PA 17059
Phone -717-436-9502

Email - ethnographic@embarqmail.com

Jay Ruby interviewing Frank Zappa, 1970, New York city.

Jay Ruby's Publications Available On The Web

Book Excerpts

1995Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America. Cambridge: MIT Press. (Entire Book is now available)

1999 The Photographic World of Francis Cooper: Not a Bad Shot.University Park: Penn State Press. Francis Cooper Photographs and Essay

Articles Available to Be Downloaded.

1973 Up the Zambesi with Notebook and Camera or Being an Anthropologist without Doing Anthropology...with Pictures. PIEF Newsletter 4 [3].

1974 With R. Chalfen. The Teaching of Visual Anthropology at Temple. SAVICOM Newsletter 5.

1976 In a Pic's Eye: Interpretive Strategies for Deriving Significance and Meaning from Photographs.Afterimage, 3[9]:5-7.

1978 The Celluloid Self. In Autobiography: Film/Video/Photography. John Katz, Editor.Art Gallery of Ontario, pgs. 7-10.

1981 With Sol Worth. An American Community's Socialization to Pictures: An Ethnography ofVisual Communication. In Studying Visual Communication, Larry Gross, Editor. University ofPennsylvania Press, Phila, pgs. 200-203.

1981 Seeing Through Pictures: The Anthropology of Photography. Camera Lucida, 3:20-33.

1982 With Barbara Myerhoff. Introduction. A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology. University of Pennsylvania Press, Phila., pgs. 1-38.

2001 The Professionalization of Visual Anthropology in the United States - 1960s and 1970s. To be published in the selected proceedings of the "Origins of Visual Anthropology: Putting the Past Together, IWF, Gottingen, Germany.

The following articles have been extensively revised and updated and form the basis of a new book entitled Picturing Culture published by the University of Chicago Press. While you can still read them in their orginal form, I recommend you look at the revised versions in Picturing Culture.

1975 Is an Ethnographic Film a Filmic Ethnography? Studies In The Anthropology of Visual Communication 2[2]: 104-111.

1980 Exposing Yourself: Reflexivity, Anthropology and Film. Semiotica, 3[1-2]:153-179.

1980 Franz Boas and Early Camera Study of Behavior. Kinesis Reports 3[1]:6 11.

1981 A Re-examination of the Early Career of Robert J. Flaherty. Quarterly Review of Film Studies,5[4]:431-457.

1982 Ethnography as Trompe L'Oeil: Anthropology and Film. In A Crack In The Mirror. University of Pennsylvania Press, Phila. pgs. 121-132.

1983 An Early Attempt at Studying Human Behavior with a Camera: Franz Boas and The Kwakiutl:1930. In Methodology in Anthropological Film Making. Nico C.R. Bogaart and Henk Ketelaar, Editors. Edition Herodot, Gottingen, Germany, pgs. 25-38.

1991 An Anthropological Critique of the Films of Robert Gardner. Journal of Film and Video Vol. 43, No. 4:3-17.]

1989 The Teaching of Visual Anthropology. Teaching Visual Anthropology, Paolo Chiozzi, editor. Firenze: Editrice "Sedicesimo." pgs. 9-18.

1990 The Belly of the Beast: Eric Michaels and the Anthropology of Visual Communication. In Communication & Tradition: Essays After Eric Michaels, Tom O'Regan, editor. Continuum, [3]2: 53-98.

1991 Speaking For, Speaking About, Speaking With, or Speaking Alongside: An Anthropological and Documentary Dilemma. Visual Anthropology Review, Vol. 7, No. 2:50-67.

1995a The Viewer Viewed: The Reception of Ethnographic Films. In The Construction of the Viewer: Media Ethnography and the Anthropology of Audiences, Peter Crawford and Sigurjon Hafsteinsson, editors. Hojbjerg: Intervention Press, pgs. 193-206.

1995b Out of Sync: The Cinema of Tim Asch. Visual Anthropology Review, vol. 11, no. 1:19-37.

1996 Visual Anthropology. In Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, David Levinson and Melvin Ember, editors. New York: Henry Holt and Company, vol. 4:1345-1351.

Go to a more extensive list of my publications


Good-bye to all that.

For the past 40 plus years I have been an advocate of anthropology of visual communication approach to visual anthropology.  The position advocated was that visual anthropology should be the anthropological study of all visual and pictorial  forms of culture and that the production of visual media(films, videos and stills) by anthropologists should be approached as a theoretical problem. Most importantly, visual anthropology should not be a fancy word for so-called ethnographic films that are often made by people with no anthropological training and who do not do ethnographic field work in preparation for producing their film. It is a concept first developed by Sol Worth(http://astro.temple.edu/~ruby/WAVA) and expanded upon by the two of us.  We first formulated it at a National Science Foundation sponsored Summer Institute in Visual Anthropology.  One result of this institute was the creation of the first professional organization in the field (Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication) and the first visual anthropology journal.

Try as I may to convince others of the value of this concept, it was mostly ignored.  As Bob Aibel, one of Worth’s former student, said recently, “we were preaching to a very small choir – ourselves, our students and a few friends.  Everyone else didn’t want to hear about it.” In time I found myself becoming the “Don Quixote of visual anthropology.”  While I wrote a number of articles during this position espousing my ideas, it was with Picturing Culture( University of Chicago Press, 2000) that I developed my argument in its fullest.

Apparently I am a slow learner but finally at VisCult in Finland and at this years’ American Anthropological Association meetings(2010), I realized I was not Don Quixote, I was the anthropological equivalent of “Rodney Dangerfield.” It was time to quit wasting my time.  So in late November, 2010, I resigned from both the American Anthropological Association and Sociey for Visual Anthropology.  It is my intention to turn my attention of the production of multi-media ethnographies of American society like “Oak Park Stories”(DER).  To that end, I am in the beginning stages of a long term ethnographic study of two Bohemian institutions in Malibu, California (http://astro.temple.edu/~ruby/coffeehouse/. I will no longer critique manuscripts, write reviews or articles, give lectures about ethnographic film or attend those incredible boring “ethnographic film festivals” – the gold arches of visual anthropology.

As I found myself listened to the same tired ideas this year and looking at the same kind of films over and over. I recalled something Sol Worth asserted people do not re-invent the wheel, they invent the flat tire.  In my case I been reading about and watching hundreds if not thousands of flat tires.  Enough already!

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