Photographer and Ethnographer: Experience of the Collaborative Work

Preliminary Notes

The photographer’s view, reconstructed (based on the photographer’s insight)

Photographer: presses the button of the camera (to use Cartier-Bresson’s expression, a finger of the photographer is a “great masturbator”)
enjoys gazing (colorful ethnic objects, people)
photographer is a soloist
offers new approaches that surprise the ethnographer
teaches the ethnographer how to be laconic, to speak about important, to think differently
insists on the non-academism of the project

Ethnographer: consults
thinks about the possible routes and trajectories of the travel
does the preparation, preliminary work
gives directions but within these directions the photographer discovers his own paths
offers the theme
helps the photographer
is the photographer’s assistant, his additional eyes and ears (“этнограф – ассистент фотографа, его подсказчик, его дополнительные глаза и уши”)
advises on the new angles
should be photographically educated
studies from the photographer

planning and preparation of the travel
field work
selection of the photographs
developing of the stories for the blog and multimedia

The ethnographer and the photographer grow into each other (“прорастание этнографа в фотографе и наоборот”). A decisively symbiotic image.

The similarities between the photographer and the ethnographer:

both look
both look in depth

The results:
Synthetic product
“Cinematic truth” (“киноправда”)

Genre: unknown
Visual essay, scientific poetry, photo-prose, ethno-photo-fairy tales? (“визуальная эссеистика, научная лирика, фото-литература, этно-фото-притчи?”)
Absolute document (“документ-абсолют”).


I expected the photographer would be a submissive figure in regard to the ethnographer/anthropologist in the field. However, the photographer perceives himself as the leading figure of the tandem.

Photograph, Time Suspended

To be naturally evoking, the photo should depart from every naturalness, and be heavily edited. There is no reason not to edit a photo up to making the depicted object unrecognizable. The photo is a specter of the moment, an apparition of the thing, and a ghost of the person. It is far more “natural” when it makes no direct allusion to the reality that it “represents,” not to mention that it does not re-present but simply presents. Presents something. Not reality. Or at least not really. The further it departs from shapes and shades, forms and surfaces, conventional lights and shadows, the better. Thus it does not attempt to deceive you, signaling with all possible clarity that this is the mold of what is already gone (if it ever was, at all).

Cartier-Bresson wrote: “A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace.” ( The imagery of this phrase immediately burst into the bundle of separate galleries: transit refers to the fleeting, ephemeral nature of the matter, vestige and trace, to the capability of objects to remain visible and feelable after their disappearance and dispersing into nihil. The neighboring of the death and trace in the phrase evokes the moss-covered tombs on the old cemetery, in-rotten into dewed grass. To take it further, photography is a trace of what never happened, it is the flattening of the three-dimensional objects which makes them strangely, perversely more visual, stops attention, and settles into memory.

It has been noted how much the technological changes advanced photography. But the photography would soon live through another revolution when professional cameras would finally be capable of uploading the images onto the web directly. Before that, we live in the medieval times.

The development of technology changes the experiences of taking the photo and of being photographed. It has been a time since I had an experience of a posed collective photo, previously a popular genre. Family gatherings may still require this sort of ritualized activity, but once it was a ceremony that had to be agreed upon in advance. My mother and her sister would clad themselves and us, their children, in the fine dresses, and lead to a studio. The photographer would arrange everyone like the docile dolls, put your hand here, lift your chin, do not blink, stare at the aperture of the camera resembling the squid’s eye; now the bird will fly out. One of such photographs, buried somewhere in my archives, is memorable because it pictures the three children’s faces, out of four, unhappy, with the angles of their lips pointed down, while Lena, the oldest sister, and our mothers are appropriately cheerful and smile. For some reason, my brothers and I, three of us, did not want to undergo the procedure slowing down our summer entertainment. We did not succeed in convincing adults that it is not a good idea, but we succeeded that day in spoiling everyone’s mood, and the photograph, with our silly pouts.

By contrast, new genres emerge to supersede the dying with the development of technologies. Selfie, which now requires nothing but a moment, has been propagating at the frightening rate. Periodical grumblings that people nowadays have exclusively selfies in their camera rolls aside, the creative projects exploring the ephemerality of one’s own face are on the rise: A Man Takes Photos of Himself for 12.5 Years ( Woman Takes a Picture of Herself for 5 years ( And so on. One of the most powerful projects here is Abused Woman Takes Pictures of Herself for a Year (

With the exception of this last example, which goes far beyond these tasks, that is the exploration of how we age, what happens to us, and how it changes our facial features, the inescapability of time, the impact of the environment.

Photography is the second invention of time; time made tangible. A work of the photographer is the work of the collector, the self-assigned archivist, and the translator who renders seen by many, captured by no one, into the language known by all.

The majority of photographers are the classifiers that are interested in no system but in kickshaws and miscellany. But once a conceptual clear-cut comes into play (like the idea of architectural geometry in the Soviet spaces), the visual projects come into being and flourish.

Tourist Complications

The essential part of functioning as a tourist is the subject’s awareness of being a tourist. Kathleen Stewart calls this curious creature, knowledgeable of their being tourist, “post-tourist” (K. Stewart, Nostalgia: The Polemic), but I would suggest  that unless the tourist knows s/he is a tourist, s/he is not; s/he is a meanderer, a wanderer, a flâneur.

Tourism is a sweaty labor. One goes from a historic vista to another, eager to see as much as humanly possible, to delude oneself in the hot mess of momentarily entangled episodic experiences. The tourist does not retain the information for it is unneeded and unrequired. Was that statue of the eighteens century or of the sixteenth? Flemish or general Dutchmen? Madonna Litta or the Dame with ermine? Who cares. The tourist stores memories s/he would never revisit, in the boxes of their camera and phone. S/he incessantly photographs because pressing the masturbatory magic button (Cartier-Bresson) means the acclaimed by protestant ethics anti-idleness of constant work, even at rest (Sontag, On Photography), and justifies vain gazing. S/he collects souvenirs to recollect places (S. Stewart). The tourist is busy. S/he is not the native who by privilege of their constant access to landmarks is exempt from ever visiting them.


To be supplied.