Working the Fields of Image: The Power of Pictures in a Chinese Village
The camera is a powerful tool for producing images: in a moment the pictures are fixed, immobile, eternal. They can depict a
particular moment in a particular place, from a single perspective, that of the photographer. But once printed, they can be transmitted
from one person to another, producing different feelings, thoughts, dispositions, positive or negative reactions and the like amongst the
subjects involved. What if the person taking the pictures were to asks the subjects usually portrayed by the others’ gaze and lens to
become their own recorders of their family environments? In this paper, I will present the social and ethnographical use of photography
drawing on my own experience in a small agricultural village in the Southwest of China, among a local matrilineal community, the Mosuo
people. I will try to trace the steps of an informal project I have conducted, asking them to portray by themselves their own family and
environmental context, showing the difficulties they experienced handling a camera and the outcome achieved. I will also show how,
during my fieldwork, having a camera and taking pictures helped me to make friends with the families of the village; and how the
circulation and sharing of the printed images produced different and dynamic interactions among the locals.
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