On the Photos of "The Space of Boredom" – and What Might Be Missing from the Picture
Photography has been, from its early stages, a powerful tool for the anthropologist, both as a mechanical technique to record data and as a heuristic tool used to reflect on the anthropologist’s approach as such. At the same time, its iconicity and indexicality have allowed for a different epistemic regime, an allegedly privileged connection to “the facts” or “the truth”, in opposition to the written notes of the anthropologist, vulnerable to subjectivity, bias or error. A substantial direction in visual culture studies questions the articulation of image and text, and acknowledges a power relation between the two, as if despite its iconicity and indexicality, photography needs taming by the text that clarifies its meaning and incorporates it in bigger narratives. It is in this context that W. J. T. Mitchell echoes the famous question “Can the subaltern speak?” in relation to photography, asking “What do pictures want?” (Mitchell, 2005, pp. 28-30). It is within this vision of photography as a potential site of resistance to the narrative in which they are embedded that I will try to raise some critical points about Bruce O’Neill’s book, The Space of Boredom, by focusing on the photos included in this book.
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