- Moving Images: John Layard, Fieldwork and Photography on Malakula since 1914
This fine book is an important contribution to both the history of anthropology and the history of Vanuatu. John Layard's fieldwork, primarily on Atchin and Vao in Northeast Malakula in 1914 and 1915, was contemporaneous with Bronislaw Malinowski's first trip to New Guinea, but Layard has not been accorded the same status as a "founding father" of British social anthropology in the conventional genealogies of the discipline. Paradoxically perhaps, Layard has been more positively remembered in those "small islands" where he lived for barely nine months than in academic annals. This book both reveals and transforms his Janus face in these twin genealogies.
The authors articulate these histories through the medium of Layard's photographs. Using a cumbersome early camera he produced about 450 images. He deposited the glass plate negatives with and donated selected copy prints to the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The fragile materiality of these photographs is consummately evoked from the first image: the back of Tawas, paddling his canoe laden with fresh food and water and John Layard, perched precariously behind the frame of his large camera and tripod. The [End Page 246] image bears the marks of its passage: a sinuous black line testifies to a tear and peeling emulsion; a fingerprint is smeared on Tawas's spine. The authors' observation is apt: "Layard's photographs . . . continually reference both the anthropologist's presence and the dynamic interactions outside the frame" (4). There are more formal photos: the "stone men" megaliths and slit gong orchestras planted on dancing grounds, male club houses, the ritual of the Maki through which men assumed titles, individual and family portraits (all individuals are meticulously named). Yet the stunning front cover image is symptomatic: a boy returning from his initiation, "the pilgrimage to Oba" (Ambae), whirling in celebration on a boat, where salty spume and rhythmic dance condense in a white wave of movement. Layard did not heed the anthropological manuals of the period whereby frontal and profile portraits were enjoined to assist the comparative anthropometry of race. Rather, it is a Malakulan couple who measure the "white man": intrigued by Layard's long nose, they scarify their daughter's shoulder with a mark of identical length, a memento of Layard in her skin reproduced in the eye of his camera (295-296).
The girl has her back turned to us, as do most other women Layard photographed, a sign of deference to men as much as shyness with strangers. We rarely see female faces except in family portraits or in the distance in ceremonies. Yet in a set of somber photographs at Père Jamond's Roman Catholic Mission station on Vao, women and men commingle, their long, modest dresses and shirts and trousers signaling conversion. Layard's resolutely masculine perspective on Malakulan kastom is palpable: men and boys stand confidently facing the camera, often with hands on hips or stretched wide, smiling in informal groups, and more often standing solemnly beside stone megaliths or slit gongs. All Layard's main interlocutors and friends were men. He celebrated the pleasures of male company, especially with Buremin, "my chief linguistic instructor, song-maker and organizer of my evening singing parties" (128). Buremin wanted to travel to England but Layard refused to let him because "I felt sure he would have died with boredom and the strangeness of it all" (128). Buremin appears in different moods: in one portrait beaming with pride (129), in another, majestically erect, face and torso blackened with soot and etched in lime to simulate a hawk (a symbol of man's soaring spiritual ascent in the Maki), wearing a superb pandanus apron from Ambae, finely plaited and dyed red by women (33 and back cover).
Indigenous agency has been much celebrated of late across a...