Photographic affordances: [re]entanglements in an ethnographic archive

paul basu picture

Abstract: Paul Basu explores James Gibson’s concept of ‘affordances’ as a tool to re-engage with the photographic practices and archives of the colonial anthropologist Northcote W. Thomas (1868-1936). Thomas was the first ‘Government Anthropologist’ to be appointed by the British Colonial Office and in this capacity he conducted as series of anthropological surveys of Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915. During four tours, Thomas assembled large material culture collections, recorded speech and song on wax phonograph cylinders, and took over 8,000 photographs. The archives and collections of Thomas’s anthropological surveys form the central case study of a 3-year AHRC-funded project entitled ‘Museum Affordances’, which has been employing a variety of ‘museum methods’ to investigate the possibilities for action, affect and meaning-making latent in these colonial ethnographic archives. In this presentation, Basu focuses on both the historical and contemporary affordances of Thomas’s anthropological photography; more specifically he asks what ‘decolonial affordances’ might these colonial archives afford? Please see the project website for further information.

VMMA-Pitt Rivers Museum Lunchtime Lectures Michaelmas 2019

Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre (off Robinson Close)

Fridays at 1pm (Weeks 1-8)

Convened by Clare Harris and Marcus Banks