Photo by Alicia Wilson and Simon Theobald
Text by CAP student correspondent Dot Mason
Students and academics gathered at the Australian Centre on China and the World for the opening of The Art of Anthropology photography exhibition last weekend.
Dr Natasha Fijn, a researcher at the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific and ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences, gave the opening address. Currently based at the Mongolia Institute at ANU, Dr Fijn’s work focuses on the social engagements between humans and animals.
This year, she has undertaken extensive fieldwork in the Khangai Mountains in Mongolia, documenting the particular relationship between nomadic herding families and their livestock.
Photography and observational filmmaking form an integral part of her research.
Speaking at the exhibition’s opening on Friday night, Dr Fijn emphasised the important role photography fulfils in promoting ethnographic inquiry.
“This is a great platform for communicating ideas and concepts beyond the more traditional forms of a text-based approach to communicating research,” she said.
The exhibition displays an impressive collection of works from 31 anthropologists based at the ANU. Many were submitted by doctoral students undertaking research in the field.
Taken in a variety of locations, from the arid plains of Central Australia to the metropolis of Beijing, the photographs offer a window into environments that appear at times strange and unfamiliar.
“Within anthropology there’s an acknowledgment that working in the field and recording through the use of a camera is not just about collecting data in a scientific sense. It includes the art of narrative and storytelling,” said Dr Fijn.
Although each location is unique, a striking feature of the photographs is their emphasis on a moment of human connection. Many of the works capture an intimacy with the subject that transcends cultural and geographic boundaries.
“The different perspectives are part of a moment, often engaging with the people within the photographs,” she added.
This kind of cross-disciplinary engagement helps place anthropological enquiry in a real-world context.
“Historically, the ANU has ongoing and close connections with internationally-renowned visual anthropologists,” said Dr Fijn. “Exhibitions such as this are important for continuing this valuable connection to the visual in relation to anthropology.”
The Art of Anthropology exhibition runs until 20 October from 9.00-17.00, excluding weekends, at the Australian Centre on China in the World Gallery, ANU.