Agitating Images

Agitating Images: Photography against History in Indigenous Siberia

Craig Campbell
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt7zw6wz
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Agitating Images
    Book Description:

    Following the socialist revolution, a colossal shift in everyday realities began in the 1920s and '30s in the former Russian empire. Faced with the Siberian North, a vast territory considered culturally and technologically backward by the revolutionary government, the Soviets confidently undertook the project of reshaping the ordinary lives of the indigenous peoples in order to fold them into the Soviet state. InAgitating Images, Craig Campbell draws a rich and unsettling cultural portrait of the encounter between indigenous Siberians and Russian communists and reveals how photographs from this period complicate our understanding of this history.

    Agitating Imagesprovides a glimpse into the first moments of cultural engineering in remote areas of Soviet Siberia. The territories were perceived by outsiders to be on the margins of civilization, replete with shamanic rituals and inhabited by exiles, criminals, and "primitive" indigenous peoples. The Soviets hoped to permanently transform the mythologized landscape by establishing socialist utopian developments designed to incorporate minority cultures into the communist state. This book delves deep into photographic archives from these Soviet programs, but rather than using the photographs to complement an official history, Campbell presents them as anti-illustrations, or intrusions, that confound simple narratives of Soviet bureaucracy and power. Meant to agitate, these images offer critiques that cannot be explained in text alone and, in turn, put into question the nature of photographs as historical artifacts.

    An innovative approach to challenging historical interpretation,Agitating Imagesdemonstrates how photographs go against accepted premises of Soviet Siberia. All photographs, Campbell argues, communicate in unique ways that present new and even contrary possibilities to the text they illustrate. Ultimately,Agitating Imagesdissects our very understanding of the production of historical knowledge.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4251-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xx)

    What stands out most to us when we look at this hundred-year-old image? Is it the gaze of these men, women, and children staring at an ancient camera’s lens? Although the look is arresting, I don’t think this is the first thing the viewer will notice. I suggest our first level of engagement is to wonder what is going on, on the surface of the image. Not only are three people painted out (or in, depending on your opinion), but the effect of the touch-up produces an uncanny confusion of territory. While it promises to excerpt a photographic element from...

  5. Introduction: In the Archives of the Cultural Base
    (pp. 1-8)

    In his bookIn the Soviet House of Culture, anthropologist Bruce Grant presents one of the key narratives that initially piqued my interest in exploring Siberia and studying the histories of indigenous Siberians—histories which have offered up both similarities and disjunctures to my earlier readings into aboriginal-state relations and twentieth-century colonialism in the Canadian North. His reference to something called the “House of Culture” offered a deliciously unfamiliar and enticing analogy for what appeared to be a qualitatively different form of colonial relationship. Whereas Grant wrote about the Nivkhi of Sakhalin Island, my introduction to Siberian history and ethnography...

  6. The Years Are Like Centuries
    (pp. 9-152)

    The litany of place names and territorial monikers in this book will probably be daunting for those not familiar with Siberian history and geography. To simplify the task of reading this work, I will set the scene with the help of a few maps. These maps are meant to orient the reader within the book’s dense geographies—produced through descriptions and depictions as much as through the reader’s own experience and expectations. The first and most general term I use here iscentral Siberia. Central Siberia is a loosely defined zone surrounding the geographical center of the Russian Federation.¹ It...

  7. Dangerous Communications
    (pp. 153-210)

    Archival photographs are like any artifact consigned to a museum, archive, library, or collection—whether they are carefully wrapped, labeled, and placed in archival-grade boxes, or casually stacked in a corner amidst other historical debris. They lie mostly unknown and ignored until a day comes when they might be pressed into service. Archival photographs are brought into the light by someone preparing a monograph, research report, calendar illustration, slide show, exhibit, article, or argument, and then circulated and seen in ways that neither the camera operator nor the photograph’s subjects could ever have anticipated. Discrete histories of photographic encounter and...

  8. Conclusion: Ethics of Presence and the (De)generative Image
    (pp. 211-228)

    Photography in the practice of history and cultural theory has consistently proven to confound interpretation as a generic category. It is apprehended along a spectrum of positions that see it alternately as a transparent reflection of the world and a fabricated cultural text. As I have shown in this book, whatever its ontological status, the photograph is implicated in historical discourses as a significant witness attesting to the everyday. As a resource in the production of historical narrative, it is much like any other document. A photograph, however, is an unstable element when reproduced as a component of historiography. I...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 229-246)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-260)
  11. Index
    (pp. 261-267)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 268-268)