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141 4. The Fieldworker and the Portrait: The Social Relations of Photography E L I S A B E T H L . C A M E R O N During the spring of 2004, I was in Kabompo District, North-Western Province, Zambia, conducting extended field research on women’s visual culture, when my colleague Raoul Birnbaum e-mailed me about organizing a conference on portraiture and photography in Africa and I began reflecting more self-consciously upon my own photographic practices in the field. I realized that in many respects, even while documenting events I witnessed, I was viewing life in Kabompo separated from the people around me by a camera lens. I did not really participate in ceremonies and events; rather, I photographed and recorded them, carefully choosing which part of the action to observe and then composing what I saw through the camera.1 Working within the blinders of the camera, I could not see what was in my peripheral vision—a second set of photographs that were not related to my “data collection” in the field but were intimately related to my own relationships within the community around me. For some time I had been making photographic portraits of friends and colleagues in Zambia, some more formal than others. During the course of my research in Zambia, I tried to use my camera to create bridges with individuals in the community by giving photographs back to the people in the community. I was interested to see that people in Kabompo District carefully distinguished between the documentary “field” photographs that I Elisabeth L. Cameron 142 treasured, and more formally posed portraits made as gifts to those in the image. In field photographs, my goal was to capture a “truth” or a moment or event frozen in time.2 People in the photograph were not given the time or privilege of composing themselves or controlling how they were being presented. Instead, I wanted to have a visual description of what life, ceremonies, and events looked like, to complement observations and field notes I made from my own perspective and understanding of the event.3 In portraits, on the other hand, I gave the sitter as complete control of the photograph as possible. They chose who would be in the photo, how they wanted to present themselves in dress and comportment, where the photograph should be taken, etc. My only input was in framing the image within the photograph itself— how much space around the person or group of people would be included in the photograph and where they would appear within the frame. Occasionally I would also ask people to stand facing the sun or to move out of mottled shade so their faces could be clearly seen, but once they knew which direction to stand, they would then resituate themselves in relationship to their background and other people in the photograph. Photography in the Kabompo, whether taken by freelance photographers or visiting expatriates, was not affected by direct contact with the flow of photographs , photographers, and studios that are discussed in other chapters of this book. The poses and compositions of portrait photographs do have relationships with urban Copperbelt areas, not because the photographers travel but because migrant workers have, for the past eighty years and more, returned to their own rural communities, bringing with them photographs and ideas of identity and modernity. It is thus the movement and displacement of workers that dictate the ways in which people in Kabompo present themselves and, therefore, construct and manipulate their own identities. Personal identity in Kabompo, as created and manipulated in portrait photographs, has two aspects. First, the sitter creates and manipulates their desired identity through selection of dress, grooming , props, and background. At the same time, however, the sitter uses body posture and eye contact to reflect local aesthetics and social principles. This stress between rural, urban, modernity, and local sensibility reflects the multilayered nature of life in Kabompo. The portrait photographs mediate these conflicting worlds of daily reality of rural life in Kabompo and the perceived and envied The Fieldworker and the Portrait 143 modern life that I represented and some rural residents had briefly experienced in the Copperbelt. “Snapping” Portraits Even in 2004, portrait photography was not easily available in Kabompo District . There were no photographic studios or facilities for film development. Several local men owned cameras and would take portraits, asking for one payment to take the photograph and another when it was delivered...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253008725
Related ISBN
9780253008602
MARC Record
OCLC
847949587
Pages
472
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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