ANTHROPOLOGY 337:

PICTORIAL LIVES:
EXPLORATIONS IN PERSONAL ANTHROPOLOGY

Instructor: Dr. Richard Chalfen
Classroom: Galdfelter 231
Wednesday: 2:40 - 5:10


Why should anthropologists be interested in the study snapshots, family albums and home videos? How is "culture" connected to visual communication? Why are personal pictures important to the study of human cultures and their symbolic environments? How do ordinary people use their cameras to communicate information about themselves to themselves? How do ordinary people construct versions of their lives, create evidence of human existence, as well as maintain identities and cultural presence in their family albums? How can we understand these pictorial forms as "stories" that are told across generations? How are human lives transformed to be preserved and remembered in snapshots, home movies and home videotapes? How do these picture collections contribute to our memories? How do they compare with other versions created with spoken and/or written words such as oral histories, diaries, journals, memoirs, autobiographies, biographies?

During this Spring semester, 1996, we will critically review the anthropological relevance of written forms such as biography and autobiography and then compare these spoken/written models to modern pictorial traditions--still photography, film and videotape. The course will integrate such topics as personal narrative, storytelling, family folklore, construction of personal knowledge, creation of social and collective memories.

Equally important, students will do their own original research projects and short studies of personal and family photography from the perspective of visual anthropology. Results will appear in written journals or on videotape.

REQUIRED READINGS (see end of Syllabus for Recommended Readings):

Langness L.L. and Gelya Frank
1981 Lives--An Anthropological Approach to Biography and Autobiography, New York: Chandler and Sharp.

Chalfen, Richard
1987 Snapshot Versions of Life, Bowling Green, OH.: Popular Press.
1991 Turning Leaves--The Photograph Collections of Two Japanese American Families, Albuquerque, NM: University              of New Mexico

Multiple authors
1994 Readings for Anthropology 337 (available on Paley Reserve Library)

Plath, David W.
1980 Long Engagements - Maturity in Modern Japan. Stanford: Stanford University Press (recommended).

COURSE OBJECTIVES:

During this semester we will focus on the following question: How do individual members of American families participate in the "home mode of pictorial communication"? We will approach this question with several objectives in mind, specifically the need: (1) to enhance a critical understanding of vernacular imagery as cultural expression, (2) to develop a new respect for taken-for-granted photographic practices as culturally structured behaviors, (3) to understand better how forms of personal photography function as a significant communication system, (4) to learn how humans have abilities to create statements about their existence through personal photography, (5) to develop viewing skills -- abilities to interpret pictorial forms as cultural artifacts, (6) to review technological and cultural factors that combine to influence the symbolic transformation of life into pictorial form. These topics are becoming increasingly significant as relatively inexpensive camera technology becomes available for mass consumption on a worldwide basis.