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Moving Images

Moving Images: John Layard, Fieldwork and Photography on Malakula since 1914

Haidy Geismar
Anita Herle
Kirk Huffman
John Layard
Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    Moving Images
    Book Description:

    In 1914-1915, Cambridge anthropologist John Layard worked in Malakula, New Hebrides (Vanuatu). This was one of the earliest periods of solitary, intensive fieldwork within the developing discipline of British social anthropology. Layard worked enthusiastically with his local assistants to document and understand the customary lives of the people, taking copious notes and over 450 photographs. His collection of objects and glass plate negatives are housed in the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. This book contains over 300 of these evocative images, most previously unpublished, united for the first time with Layard’s field notes and captions. They provide an extraordinary record of the elaborate ritual and culture of Small Islanders and reveal photography’s role as an evidential and subjective medium vital to the practice of social anthropology.

    Layard’s photographs have played a crucial role in forming ideas about culture and society, both in Vanuatu and within anthropology. His writings and images have recently been used by ni-Vanuatu as records of traditional life and to encourage cultural revitalization. Moving Images fully explores the resonance of Layard’s images in the intellectual history of anthropology and illuminates the social history of the discipline as a cross-cultural enterprise that connects Western scholarship to indigenous interests in the encounter of fieldwork.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6047-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Preface:
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Ralph Regenvanu
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Sources and conventions
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Chapter one Introduction Moving images
    (pp. 1-42)
    Haidy Geismar and Anita Herle

    This book follows the trajectories of a collection of photographs, from the moment of their creation, through their circulation within a range of different media throughout Europe and America, and back to the places from which they originated. Three stories are entwined – that of photograph, photographer and photographed. These entangled histories both frame the images and narratives that unfold within these pages and are depicted within them. The book explores the resonance of photographic images in both the intellectual history of anthropology as an academic discipline, and in the social history of anthropology as a cross-cultural enterprise, which incorporates indigenous...

  7. Chapter two Stone Men Photo-essay
    (pp. 43-72)
    Haidy Geismar and Anita Herle

    This photo-essay draws together the photographs of Maki arte facts and ceremonies taken by Layard throughout his fieldwork, and is intended as an introduction to Layard’s ethnographic approach and interests. Layard dedicated much of his time in the field to the study of the rites of Maki – a generation-long ritual and religious cycle that climaxes with the revelation of ancestor images, the sacrifice of tusked boars, and hawk banners flying high over the sacred dancing grounds. Layard was particularly interested in the large and small stone dolmens that were erected during these rites. For Layard and his mentor, Rivers, the...

  8. Chapter three John Layard’s photographs on Malakula: from observational to participant field research
    (pp. 73-120)
    Anita Herle

    The photographs taken by John Layard in Malakula between 1914 and 1915 provide vivid insights into the daily and ritual lives of Small Islander communities, then situated at a colonial periphery. Part of the photographs’ interest is that they appear to depict a time when key beliefs and practices had not yet been disrupted by the uneven, often disastrous, consequences of prolonged contact with European missionaries, traders and government officials. The intimacy of many of Layard’s photographs, and the participatory style that emerges from them, facilitates a close engagement with the subjects portrayed in the images. The photographic essays in...

  9. Chapter four Portraits Photo-essay
    (pp. 121-142)
    Haidy Geismar and Anita Herle

    At a time when intensive fieldwork was being developed as the central methodology for the developing discipline of British anthropology, Layard’s photographs reveal the crucial role of local assistants and the intimacy that often develops during fieldwork. The creation of these photographs was an important arena of interaction between Layard and the inhabitants of the Small Islands. On Atchin, Layard quickly became friends with a number of younger men, most of whom lived in the station of Ruruar where he was based during his research. The following portraits show the ease that developed between Layard and Small Islanders during his...

  10. Chapter five The Coming of the White Man on Atchin
    (pp. 143-168)
    John Layard

    The following, formerly unpublished, manuscript was written in 1936, more than twenty years after Layard returned from Malakula. It was written for Tom Harrisson, a rakish ornithologist turned anthropologist, who had recently returned from a year’s sojourn on Malakula, where he had, in his own words, ‘gone native’ as well as working as an ornithologist, civil servant and movie star (Harrisson 1937: 7). Layard’s discussion of the arrival and impact of colonials, traders and missionaries on Atchin emerges directly from his meetings with Harrisson, who at that time was in the process of writing Savage Civilisation (1937), an ethnography which...

  11. Chapter six Initiation Photo-essay
    (pp. 169-204)
    Haidy Geismar and Anita Herle

    When Layard returned to Atchin for a second stint of fieldwork, after recuperating from malaria on Norfolk Island, he found himself in the middle of what he described as the ‘ritual season’. Before his departure at Christmas 1914, he had photographed the youths of Atchin preparing the sacred gardens that would provide the yams for exchange and feasting around the time of their penile incision, a crucial rite of passage for young men. Upon his return, he documented each successive ritual in the ceremony, including the building of the novices’ incision house, the ritualised separation from their mothers symbolised by...

  12. Chapter seven T’soni, yu save resis Johnny, you can run fast
    (pp. 205-244)
    Kirk Huffman

    The following chapter is excerpted from a much longer account written by Kirk Huffman, Curator of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VCC) from 1977 to 1989 and long-time researcher in Malakulan art and culture. He describes some of the intersections between his life and work in Vanuatu and that of john Layard, focusing on a crucial period in Vanuatu history – the transition to an independent republic in the 1970s and 1980s (MacClancy 1981). It provides an intimate insight into Layard’s continuing engagement with the people of Malakula up until his death in 1974, and demonstrates the importance of his work for...

  13. Chapter eight The Consecration of a Whaler Photo-essay
    (pp. 245-256)
    Haidy Geismar and Anita Herle

    During his first few months on Atchin, Layard documented in detail the ceremony of consecration for a European whaler that was to be used in lieu of a traditional large ocean-going canoe in journeys such as the ‘pilgrimage’ to Ambae (Huffman, this volume; Herle this volume). The sea-going canoes made in the Small Islands were capable of holding thirty or even forty men, and were used for trading voyages across the open seas to the islands of Ambrym, Pentecost, Ambae, Maewo, Malo and Santo. Owing to the sacred nature of the pig trade for which they were primarily used, these...

  14. Chapter nine Photographs and foundations: Visualising the past on Atchin and Vao
    (pp. 257-292)
    Haidy Geismar

    In Vanuatu, as elsewhere, photographs often excite their viewers because of the ways in which they are perceived to physically draw together different moments of history. The physical process of fixing emulsion onto a glass-plate negative that can then reproduce any number of photographic images also metaphysically congeals the past onto the present (Barthes 1981, Edwards 2001, Wright 2003: 166). Here, I chart the histories, narratives and reflections that emerged in 2003, when I brought Layard’s photographs back to Malakula again. Photographic practice was an important part of Layard’s research and the lively portraits and intensive documentation of local events...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 293-296)
    Haidy Geismar and Anita Herle

    Towards the end of his fieldwork, Layard photographed his good friend and informant on Vao, Ma-Taru and his wife incising the length of Layard’s nose on the arm of their young daughter. This exceptional act of scarification was performed within a local context of memorialisation and esteem associated with long noses. The practice of inscription on skin may also be understood to resemble the photographic inscription of light on a glass-plate negative – both acts are concerned with physically maintaining a surface trace of the past in order to reaffirm particular relationships over time. Ma-Taru’s daughter, Leikakas, although she is no...

  16. Appendix: Biography of John Willoughby Layard
    (pp. 299-302)
  17. References
    (pp. 303-308)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-309)