Private Photographic Collections as an Ethnological Source.


Private photo collections have great potential value as sources of cultural history, and as indicators of ideals and sentiments of their time. The aim of the article is to explore some methodological aspects of the study of such collections. The question is how to get beyond the stage of mere description of objects that can be registered in the photo, in order to grasp some of the meaning behind it. Systematizing the various levels of information that can be extracted from a photograph, I discuss a mere visual analysis of the image, as opposed to a combination of interview and pictorial analysis, which is referred to as a visual/ contextual approach. Both ways a photograph can be used both as narrative and as document, but a combined visual/contextual analysis naturally offers much richer possibilities. Touching upon some central problems of photographical analysis, such as code and function, I conclude with a small series of examples, which as a warning of the need for source criticism, demonstrate how decisive the inside information given by an informant may be to avoid misinterpretation.

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Tobiassen, A. H., (1989) “Private Photographic Collections as an Ethnological Source.”, Ethnologia Europaea 20(1), 81-94. doi:


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Anna Helene Tobiassen (University of Oslo)



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