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Visual Anthropology

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Ties that Bind: Photographs, Personhood, and Image Relations in Northeastern Australia Benjamin R. Smith

To cite this Article Smith, Benjamin R.(2008) 'Ties that Bind: Photographs, Personhood, and Image Relations in

Northeastern Australia', Visual Anthropology, 21: 4, 327 — 344 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/08949460802156375 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08949460802156375

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Visual Anthropology, 21: 327–344, 2008 Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0894-9468 print=1545-5920 online DOI: 10.1080/08949460802156375

Ties that Bind: Photographs, Personhood, and Image Relations in Northeastern Australia

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Benjamin R. Smith Photographs are a ubiquitous feature of Aboriginal life in Northeastern Australia, with images of relatives being prominently displayed in most Aboriginal houses. This display of photographs is tied to a form of distributed personhood that draws on photographs to create a sense of social immediacy in the absence of close kin. This sense of immediacy also occurs in relation to photographs of the dead, giving these images a particular force for Aboriginal viewers. But further consideration of this force of photographic images suggests that they should be treated neither as things nor as aspects of persons, despite their seeming ability to manifest agency in Aboriginal life-worlds.

INTRODUCTION Photographs are a ubiquitous feature of Aboriginal life in Northeast Australia, as in other parts of the country [Deger, this collection; Edwards 2006; MacDonald 2003]. Images of living and dead relatives are prominently displayed in Aboriginal houses, covering the walls and shelves, as well as being kept in photograph albums. Many of these photographs are now taken by Aboriginal people themselves. Other images, particularly those of long-deceased forebears, have entered Aboriginal possession through the return of photographs taken by anthropologists and by other non-Indigenes. This article argues that the display of photographs in Aboriginal houses is connected to the distributed character of Aboriginal personhood. Among Aboriginal people in Northeast Australia, photographic images are drawn on to affirm a sense of self in relation to the living and the dead. This link between photographs, subjectivity, and distributed personhood gives photographic images a particular force. Drawing on ethnographic examples of the display, use, and interpretation of photographs in the Central Cape York Peninsula, this article further suggests that the force of images among Aboriginal people challenges the idea that photos are best understood as a particular kind of object. Instead, despite the articulation of photographic portraits with Aboriginal personhood, I argue that such images remain distinct from the world of things and persons. This BENJAMIN R. SMITH is a social and cultural anthropologist whose fieldwork has mostly been conducted with Aboriginal Australians in Northern Queensland. He has written on topics including customary land claims, local manifestations of the state, the social life of photographs, and sorcery. Currently he is working on a book manuscript, Between People Between Places: The Grounds of Sociality in Northeast Australia. E-mail: drbenjaminrsmith@hotmail.com

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distinction of the photographic image represents a key aspect of photography’s imminent metaphysic [Weiner 1997], which underpins the affective power of the photography.

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PHOTOGRAPHS AND PERSONHOOD IN CENTRAL CAPE YORK PENINSULA Central Cape York Peninsula is a fairly remote region of Northeastern Australia [Figure 1]. Its Aboriginal population was absorbed into Australian society by the northward expansion of the colonial frontier in the late 19th century, following a series of gold rushes and the establishment of large cattle runs. After the arrival of a small European settler population, Aboriginal people were dispersed and dispossessed of their traditional homelands. Many Aborigines then worked as indentured laborers on cattle stations; others were removed to missions and government settlements elsewhere on the Peninsula, including the Anglican mission at Lockhart River, or to settlements to the south, thus forming part of Australia’s ‘‘stolen generations’’ [Commonwealth of Australia 1997]. In the late 1960s, the number of Aboriginal people living in the Peninsula’s towns and Aboriginal settlements grew, following the collapse of employment that accompanied the granting of wage awards to Aborigines. At this time, many station workers were moved onto the Aboriginal reserve in Coen, the principal township of the Central Peninsula [Figure 1]. More recently, legislation providing for customary land claims and the development of a series of local and regional Aboriginal organizations have enabled Aboriginal people living in Coen to reestablish camps on their traditional homelands [Smith 2004]. Many of the Central Peninsula’s Aboriginal population now move back and forth between households in Coen, homeland camps or ‘‘outstations’’ in the township’s hinterland, and other settlements and towns on the Peninsula or to its south. Photographs play an important role for the Central Peninsula’s Aboriginal population. Aboriginal houses in Coen and at the region’s various outstations are typically full of photos of kin. These include photos of relations living in Coen and elsewhere on the Peninsula as well as images of now-deceased relations and forebears. Many of the photographs have been taken by Aboriginal people themselves, often using disposable cameras processed in urban centers to the south of the Peninsula. Digital cameras and camera phones are also increasingly used to produce such photographs. Other images are prints or photocopies of photos taken by anthropologists and other non-indigenous visitors to the region. These images often have been ‘‘returned’’ to local people by those taking the photos through museum outreach programs or as a result of research projects undertaken by academics or by regional development organizations.1 Household displays of photos present a composite image of the field of kin among whom Aboriginal personhood is generated and reproduced. These photographs surround those living in or visiting the house, acting as a constant reminder of absent relations. But they are more than simple mementos. For Aboriginal viewers, photographic images of kin play a key role in maintaining a sense of self within a field of distributed personhood.


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Figure 1 Map of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland.

The photographic mediation of distributed personhood can be illustrated with reference to a montage of photos made by residents at Chuulangun (Wenlock River) outstation [see Figure 2]. These people mostly live between Chuulangun and the township of Coen, around 100 km to the south. The montage includes photographs taken by or given to those living at Chuulangun. These photos have been pasted on a wooden board alongside images cut out from a development plan published in the nearby township of Lockhart River, where the outstation’s residents also have strong personal connections. The resulting montage—which bears the legend ‘‘Family Ties’’—provides a composite image of the set of kin who provide for the outstation residents’ sense of self. The local importance of photographs is linked to the character of Aboriginal personhood. Elsewhere [Smith 2007], I have drawn on accounts of personhood in Australia and beyond to describe Aboriginal personhood as ‘‘dividual.’’ This term refers to a form of personhood that occurs in social contexts in which


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Figure 2 ‘‘Family Ties,’’ a photographic montage at Chuulangun outstation.

persons are not thought of as indivisible, bounded units, but rather as ‘‘dividual’’ or ‘‘divisible,’’ being the product of the absorption of heterogeneous influences [Marriott 1976]. Taken up by Strathern [1988, 1992] to criticize assumptions about personhood within anthropology and feminist scholarship, the notion of the ‘‘dividual’’ (alongside Wagner’s [1991] closely related discussion of the ‘‘fractal person’’) has become closely identified with recent anthropological accounts of Melanesia. In the Melaneisan context, the dividual—contrasted with the idea of the individual that predominates in modern Western contexts—is associated with shifting, time-bound presentations of social relationships. This iterative play of relatedness and differentiation is figured within as well as between persons. This kind of dividual sociality exists in marked contrast with Western thinking, which figures ‘‘groups’’ and ‘‘society’’ as composites that are built from relations between individuals. Given its similarities to the forms of personhood presented in both South Asian and Melanesian ethnography, Australian Aboriginal personhood also can be understood as dividual in character [Keen 2006; Redmond 2001, 2005; Smith 2007]. Like the forms of personhood described in the ‘‘new Melaneisan ethnography’’ [see Josephides 1991; Strathern 1990, 1992], Aboriginal personhood is realized primarily through shifting configurations of identity and difference.


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In Aboriginal contexts, these configurations are not merely conceptual; rather, they also involve the experiential incorporation of relationships such that the embodied person exists as a social microcosm [Strathern 1988: 15] containing the diverse relationships through which their personhood comes into being. This gives the iterative figuration of Aboriginal personhood a subjective aspect, with various projections of shared personhood being experienced through their embodiment. This embodiment of a markedly relational form of personhood means that personhood is experienced as well as understood as being distributed among consociates. The manner in which the North Australian dividual depends on the subjective incorporation of relationships, and the distribution of personhood across the bodies of consociates, is perhaps best illustrated by Aboriginal people’s embodied experiences of their relationality. In Cape York Peninsula, as in other parts of Northern Australia, Aborigines explicitly link bodily sensations with particular kin, marking the psychosomatic incorporation or ‘‘introjection’’ of family ties that lies at the heart of self-formation [Redmond 2005: 234, 239; Jackson 1996: 32; Rose 1992: 58–59]. This embodied intersubjectivity2 is shaped during the early socialization of an infant by its kin, who look into its eyes as the child is told by what kinship term it should ‘‘call’’ them [Deger, this collection]. The constitution of relationships is thus founded on the incorporation of self-images exchanged between the infant and its kin. This generation of selfhood through the introjection of images of kin is linked to an Aboriginal ontology within which people are understood to become themselves by ‘‘becomingin-relation’’ to others [Deger 2006: 88–90].3 The embodied experience of relationships and the incorporation of images of kin in early childhood are strongly suggestive of the ontogenetic basis of dividual personhood. This form of personhood seems to depend on a particular inflection of the self-generating processes that psychoanalysts label ‘‘introjection’’ and ‘‘projective identification’’ [Grotstein 1986(1981); Klein 1975; Segal 1957; for an anthropological account, see Lambek 2003]. Contradicting dominant Western ideas that imagine the self as existing prior to relationships with others, psychoanalytic accounts of introjection and projective identification displace the ‘‘center of gravity’’ of the human being from the individual, even in Western contexts where individuation appears to predominate [Winnicott 1958: 99]. Instead of positing a presocial self, such psychoanalytic accounts of ontogeny—and anthropological accounts informed by them—insist that the self is a relational construct that develops through the incorporation of images of consociates [Weiner 1999: 237]. For psychoanalysts, introjection names the process of incorporation through which psychic images (‘‘imagos’’) of the mother and other relations allow for the development both of the infant’s sense of itself and its sense of others. The closely linked concept of projective identification, on the other hand, refers to the way in which aspects of the self are experienced as being embodied by others. For instance, someone may perceive someone else as being angry through his projection of an aggressive aspect of himself onto that person. Beyond the displacement of negative aspects of the self, however, projective identification is also understood to lie at the heart of more positive aspects of human


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existence, among them the potential for empathy [Grotstein 1986 (1981): 123]. Together, ideas about introjection and projective identification reveal the manner in which even ‘‘individual’’ Western selves are, in fact, constituted in a profoundly intersubjective and distributed manner. In Aboriginal contexts, introjection and projective identification seem to take particular culturally inflected forms. While psychoanalysts understand projective identification and introjection to be predominantly unconscious aspects of modern Western personhood, Aboriginal people appear to remain partially conscious of their embodiment of aspects of their kin throughout their adult lives, and understand moments of self-experience explicitly in terms of the introjection of aspects of their consociates.4 The blurred character of these self–other relationships suggests that introjection is accompanied by a particular kind of projective identification in Aboriginal contexts. In particular, the intense forms of interpersonal dependence that characterize Aboriginal life recall psychoanalytic accounts of the projection of significant parts of the self into others.5 According to Kleinian psychoanalysis, where such projection is particularly substantial, the result is ‘‘an over-strong dependence on these external representatives of one’s own good parts’’ for a sense of the cohesiveness of the self [Klein 1975: 9]. This leads psychoanalysts to view substantial projection and the pronounced intersubjectivity that it creates as pathological: this kind of distributed selfhood is presumed to result in a weakly established and impoverished sense of the individuated self. It seems possible, however, that these claims about the impoverishment of the self through excessive projection mark the ethnocentrism of psychoanalytic theory. Certainly, Aboriginal sociality involves what—from a Western perspective— might be regarded as an ‘‘over-strong dependence’’ on kin [Martin 2006; Peterson and Taylor 2003].6 But the form of distributed personhood apparent across Cape York Peninsula does not result in higher levels of psychological dysfunction per se, although it may present problems in postcolonial contexts that privilege more individuated kinds of personhood. Aboriginal forms of distributed personhood do not appear to be dysfunctional so long as they are accompanied by particular forms of social action that ensure the maintenance of the proximity of projected aspects of the self.7 The maintenance of this proximity occurs through a cultural norm of intense sociality and a commensurate lack of opportunity for social withdrawal, both of which act to mitigate any sense of self-depletion resulting from the absence of significant others. In the Central Peninsula, it seems that the necessary proximity of significant relations may also be maintained through the display of photographic images of consociates in their absence. The absence of consociates is ubiquitous in the Aboriginal settlements and camps of the Central Peninsula. In part this is the result of the region’s history of population dispersal. High levels of population mobility now add to the number of kin living elsewhere, with a significant number of most people’s relations being absent on a temporary or semipermanent basis at any given time [Smith 2004]. This spatial distribution of kin—and the resulting loss of face-to-face interactions iterative of a sense of self—underlies the local importance of photos. It is precisely those kin who are absent on either a temporary or regular basis who are most likely to appear in the photos displayed in Aboriginal houses. Where these


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kin cannot be present ‘‘in person,’’ photographs maintain their presence in a virtual form. These photos are not simply mementos. Rather, they allow viewers to bolster aspects of their own personhood that have been projectively identified with these kin. Best exemplified by the ‘‘Family Ties’’ montage at the Wenlock River outstation, the display of photographs allows for the maintenance of a sense of self given the impossibility of ensuring the physical presence of all those in whom this sense of self is invested or projected. In the Central Peninsula, image relations—in the sense of both images of relations and the relationships people possess with these images—allow Aboriginal people to maintain a cohesive sense of self by coming face to face with photographs of consociates.8

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HAUNTING IMAGES Photographs allow Aboriginal people to encounter images of their deceased forebears, as well as images of kin living elsewhere. Through such encounters, photos mediate temporally distributed aspects of Aboriginal personhood, and those aspects of personhood distributed spatially by the dispersal of consociates. At first glance, the display of such images seems to contradict the widely reported Aboriginal taboo on the display of photographs of the dead, a taboo connected to other longer-running aspects of mourning practices, including a ban on the use of names of the deceased [Glaskin et al. 2008; Dixon 1970: 653–566; Jackson 1998: 161; Deger, this collection]. Certainly it seems that Aboriginal people in the Central Peninsula are now prepared to display images of their deceased kin relatively soon following the death. While these images are still generally avoided in the months after a funeral, within a year or two following a death relatives will return photos of the living to household displays, and will look at photos of a deceased person offered to them by others. Within a year of Maisie’s and Colin’s deaths,9 montages of photos of the couple were displayed both at their daughter’s house and in one of Coen’s two public ‘‘heritage’’ centers [Figure 3].10 Similarly, their daughter and other relatives were keen to receive and view some photos of Maisie and Colin that had been given to me by an acquaintance who had spent some time in Coen in the early 1990s. It seems significant that the period of a year or two following a death, after which photos tend to be displayed or viewed, is also the period linked to the gradual ‘‘settling’’ of the spirit of the deceased [Smith 2008]. Following the death of a kinsman, Aboriginal people from the region claim that the dead person’s spirit remains active, often troubling its close relations in the days and weeks following the death. But over time—and following the (now declining) performance of ritual acts intended to ‘‘chase away’’ the spirit from its living kin—the spirit’s intrusions among the living subside, marking a shift from raw grief to a more subdued period of mourning. Despite the passing of the period of raw grief following their deaths, a conversation with Maisie and Colin’s daughter, Rebecca, suggested a connection between ghosts and photographic images that persists even after the strong taboo on the display or viewing of photographs no longer applies. Rebecca informed me that one night the montage of photos of her mother and father displayed in her living


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Figure 3 ‘‘Maisie and Colin’s Life on Artemis,’’ a photographic montage from Coen’s heritage house.

room had ‘‘jumped’’ off the wall, smashing the glass frame. Later it was determined that this event had occurred as a young man living nearby had been preparing to commit suicide. According to Rebecca, her mother’s spirit had knocked the photos from the wall in an attempt to warn her family that ‘‘something was wrong,’’ so that they might intervene before the young man was able to harm himself.11 After a period in which the image is too ‘‘raw’’ [Edwards 2001: 5]—when it exaggerates the sense of loss rather than providing a reassuring kind of presence—photographs of dead kin now seem to be drawn upon to maintain ties with them. These ties involve distributed aspects of personhood which would otherwise be lost following the death of a consociate.12 If we understand this pseudo-presence of the dead in photographic images to be a kind of continuing nurturance (by way of reiterating the sense of self of the kin who survive them), then it is perhaps unsurprising that spirits are understood as undertaking other kinds of nurturance, particularly at a time in which the threatening aspects of the dead are being deemphasized in relation to the positive roles they play among the living [Smith 2008]. As Rebecca put it, her mother had ‘‘looked after’’ her family and other Coen people throughout her life, and wanted to continue to care for people after her death. Maisie’s spirit (or perhaps that aspect of Maisie that persisted through its introjection by her kin) seemed to maintain her agency among the living, particularly in proximity to her photographic image.


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The manner in which the dead ‘‘live on’’ through their photographic images and psychosomatic introjection is reminiscent of Gell’s [1998] claims about the agency manifested through images. But despite their affective force, the strange temporality of photographic relations should not be overemphasized. Another image encounter in Coen makes it clear that, despite the persistence of their after-image, a sense of loss nonetheless underpins the melancholic traces of the dead.

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‘‘IT TAKES YOUR MIND BACK’’ Some time into my initial period of fieldwork in Coen, I requested a photocopy of a photo in the possession of an academic colleague. The original photograph was taken by a pastoralist whose cattle station lay to the southeast of the township, a man who had produced images of Aboriginal people who worked on his station or whom he photographed during his visits to Coen. The image I requested [Figure 4] is of an Aboriginal man and woman; the man wears a military uniform and a ‘‘king plate’’ [Troy 1993], a brass plaque signifying that settlers recognized him as a local leader able to maintain order among the local Aboriginal population. The reason for my interest in this photograph was that the king plate shown in the photo had recently been discovered to be in the possession of an ex–policeman, who had taken it as a souvenir when he left Coen several decades earlier. A local Aboriginal man discovered the ex-policeman’s possession of the plate while reading a newspaper article about his experiences on the Peninsula. But although my respondent now knew the location of this plate, he was

Figure 4 Tommy Wellwell (Walwalla) and Kitty Wellwell (Photograph from the Wassell collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).


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uncertain about the identity of its original bearer and asked me if I could help him find out. In order to determine for whom the plate had originally been made (likely one of two men who carried the English name Tommy, as the legend on the plate read ‘‘King Tommy of Coen, Kanjo [Kaanju] Tribe’’), I took the copy of the photo sent by my colleague to William, one of the oldest men in Coen. As William had been a young man at the time the photo was taken, it seemed likely that he would be able to confirm the identities of the man and woman in the picture. William consented to look at the copy of the photo, despite the fact that it almost certainly portrayed his deceased mother’s twin sister and her husband, Tommy Wellwell (Walwalla), who had been the ‘‘king’’ at Coen’s Aboriginal Reserve. With some trepidation, I pulled the copy of the photo from the envelope in which I had put it prior to the visit. Doubtless my anxious performance of requesting consent added to the force of the revealed image. Certainly, my presentation of the photo seemed to strike the old man. As he gazed silently at the image, a palpable air of sadness made me wonder if I hadn’t caused him unnecessary grief, a concern that increased when I realized William had tears in his eyes as he continued to look at the photo. Finally he quietly told me that the people in the photograph were, indeed, his ‘‘uncle’’ Tommy Wellwell and Tommy’s wife, his mother’s sister. William then told me that the photograph ‘‘took [his] mind right back.’’

THE FORCE OF THE IMAGE Like the montage of images of Maisie and Colin, the photograph of William’s mother’s sister and her husband held a haunting force, unsettling William as he looked at the faces of his deceased relations. Unlike Rebecca’s experience of her mother’s spirit, however, William’s experience did not involve the continuing presence of the recently dead among the living. Instead, the photograph ‘‘took his mind back,’’ displacing him from the present and reminding him of the past and the relations now lost to him. Between these two examples of the strange temporality of photographic images we can glimpse something that is also apparent in the spatial context of the ‘‘Family Ties’’ montage at the Wenlock River outstation—the manner in which photos confront their viewers with an ‘‘absent presence.’’13 The power or force of the photos I have discussed depends on an indigenous form of personhood in which distributed aspects of the self are located in the image of others, and in which a commensurate introjection of others’ images forms the basis for the embodied sense of self. But the force of these photographs also depends on a particular metaphysic that inheres in photographic media in general [Weiner 1997: 198]. This inherent metaphysic involves a particular understanding of the real and the technological possibility of its representation, as well as the desirability of preserving ‘‘captured’’ images, which can then be carried across time and space. Where photographic technologies enter life-worlds based on an ontology different from that which provided the foundation for photography’s development, then local understandings of photography will necessarily involve the articulation of the local ontology and the metaphysic that inheres within


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photography. In places like Northeastern Queensland, the local ontology does not depend on an understanding of a ‘‘natural’’ real subject to the operations of photographic technology and its subsequent cultural signification. Instead, Aboriginal life-worlds posit ‘‘construction, signing, and visioning . . . not [as] a matter of human action and intention but [as related to kinds of agency] immanent in the world itself’’ [Weiner 1997: 198; also Wagner 1981(1975)]. In this life-world, the introduction of a technology able to present viewers with images that breach time and space will see these technologies become meaningful in relation to local understandings of image relations. And while the articulation of introduced technologies and non-Western modes of knowledge may render such technologies meaningless or subvert local modes of knowledge, in other cases—including the one presented here—the introduced media may become profoundly meaningful within the new context. The profound meaning, or force, of photographic images in the Central Peninsula depends in part on the coincidence of a distributed form of personhood and a technology able to present seemingly immediate images across time and space. But the local force of the absent presence encountered in the photographic image does not simply result from the image’s carriage of a partible aspect of the thing or scene portrayed; this force also results from the relation of the Aboriginal viewer and the photographed image per se. Although often (and rightly) discussed in terms of material culture, an anthropological engagement with the force of photographic images must also take account of the immaterial aspect of these images. Although inseparable from their material ‘‘backing,’’ photographic images, unlike photographic objects, cannot be touched. They are seemingly present, yet simultaneously intangible or withdrawn from the world in which they present themselves. It seems to be this combination of intangibility and appearance that underpins the force of photography in the Central Peninsula. The absent presence identified with the ‘‘subject’’ of a photograph also consists in the intangibility of the photographic image itself and the manner in which this intangibility becomes locally meaningful. The paradoxical character of the photographic image—its simultaneous presence and detachment from the world of the viewer—is perhaps best described by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy [2005], who suggests that we might best understand the force of the image by considering the ways it both touches upon and is divided from those viewing it. Strongly influenced by Heidegger’s [1971] account of the work of art, Nancy argues that an image is not simply a ‘‘thing’’ that is present in the social context in which it is encountered. Rather, the image is ‘‘distinct’’ from the social. It is not continuous with the world, but nonetheless effects a ‘‘relation’’ with it ‘‘born to the surface from out of an intimacy’’ [Nancy 2005: 4]. While particular viewers are impelled to react to an image on the basis of their personal relation to what it portrays, the image itself remains absolutely removed from the social world, despite the affective force it apparently produces within that world. This account of the ‘‘distinction of the image’’ may allow us to make some headway in addressing what Gell [1998: 15] calls ‘‘the very difficult question as to the nature of the relationship between real and depicted persons.’’ In particular, dealing with the image in terms of its distinction suggests that treating the


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photographic image as a particular kind of object (albeit an object apparently able to manifest a form of abducted agency in social relations with persons) may not be the best way to proceed. We might instead treat the image—which holds something in sight but does not make it available, and which stands in distinction to the world of things and people—neither as an object nor as an aspect of a person. But if the image is distinct, then this distinction is nonetheless crossed by its force. In this way the image ‘‘establishes simultaneously a withdrawal and a passage that, however, does not pass’’ [Nancy 2005: 3]. Although the image is not a thing or a person, it is nonetheless able to affect its viewers, manifesting a strange force that touches us despite its ungraspability, crossing the divide that separates image and world, pressing upon the world while remaining distinct from it. This force is not a kind of agency (although it may be understood as such in particular cultural contexts). The image is devoid of intention; while it is not an object it is also not a subject and has no intentionality, although one can imagine human agency deploying the force of images purposefully, extending intentions across space and time, as Gell [1998] suggests. Instead, the image is ‘‘at once the receptivity of an unformed support’’—the ‘‘ground,’’ ‘‘back,’’ or materiality of the image, which allows for or bears the photographic impression—and ‘‘the activity of a form’’ [Nancy 2005: 7] in relation to its viewers. With regard to Northeastern Australia, recognizing the distinction of the image helps us to understand why the ghost and the photograph are so closely linked. It is the photograph’s distinction—the divide between the world and the image— as well as the image’s seeming ability to present absent kin to the viewer, that links photographs with local ideas about ghosts. For Aboriginal Australians, ghostliness is ‘‘a metaphor of separateness’’ [Jackson 1998: 167], which involves an insurmountable distance or disjuncture in the relationship between the living and the dead, even as the dead continue to press upon the living. This disjuncture is paralleled by the intangibility of the image, in particular the photographic image, which seems to present us with a direct impression of the person, place, or thing portrayed. The haunting force of images in the Central Peninsula depends on deeply affective relationships with the subjects portrayed, whether this force be expressed in the rawness of photos of the recently dead, the proximity of ghosts to images of the dead, the importance of photographs of absent kin, or the way that photographs of long-dead relatives seem to ‘‘take your mind back.’’ But all of these affective encounters with images also depend on the way in which photos manifest the separation of the image from the viewer. It is across this divide that what Nancy [2005: 7] calls ‘‘the activity of a form’’ occurs. More specifically, the force of the image does not simply inhere in the materiality of the photograph or the innate disjuncture of the image it presents. Rather, the activity that occurs in the face of the image depends on an act of recognition performed against the implicit gap between the viewer and the ‘‘subject’’ of a photograph. In Northeastern Australia, such acts of recognition involve not only the image that appears to present itself but also the introjected images of consociates that continue to provide for the viewer’s sense of self. The image encountered is not simply the image of an important other; it is also a presentation of a distributed aspect of the self. The force of the image relation thus lies in the conjoint


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experience of the recovery of vital aspects of consociates and the recovery of oneself in the face of an image. The photographic image remains distinct from but vital to Aboriginal experiences of aspects of ‘‘selves’’ and ‘‘others’’ that can never be fully distinguished from one another.

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CONCLUSION Combining a conception of the distinction inherent to the photographic image with an understanding of Aboriginal personhood allows us to grasp the particular force of image relations among Aboriginal people in Northeastern Australia. Although the ‘‘rawness’’ of images of the recently dead is widely recognized by anthropologists working in Aboriginal contexts, a lack of attention to the particular character of Aboriginal personhood—which I have argued is best understood in relation to anthropological accounts of dividual persons in Melanesia and South Asia—has limited our understanding of the ‘‘taboo’’ on images of the deceased. Likewise, our understanding of the force of images of the dead and of photographic portraits more generally can be enhanced by considering the psychosocial aspects of image relations in dividual contexts. In this article, I have argued that image relations play a pivotal role in contemporary Aboriginal life-worlds, providing a means of negotiating the spatial and temporal dispersal of consociates and allowing the maintenance of some semblance of ‘‘family ties’’ while significant kin are living elsewhere, or following the death of such consociates. Of course, the importance of photographs of kin is a widespread phenomenon, and the Aboriginal display of photos cannot be completely distinguished from similar forms of display among White Australians. (Indeed, it may be that Aboriginal people began to display photos in this manner after seeing similar displays in settlers’ houses.) Nonetheless it seems likely that the local emphasis placed on such displays is linked to a particular kind of personhood prevalent among Aboriginal Australians. In this context of distributed personhood, photographs do not simply represent absent kin. Rather, they substitute a necessary pseudo-presence of these consociates impelled both by the necessity of the presence of these kin (based on their embodying aspects of the self) and by the continuing presence of the internalized images of consociates (which provide Aboriginal people with their sense of selfhood per se). The distributed character of Aboriginal personhood is represented in the composite photographic displays and montages discussed in this article. In the case of the Wenlock River display of ‘‘Family Ties,’’ the viewer is faced with a compressed version of the photographic montage produced through the display of numerous portraits of relatives and forebears on the walls and shelves of Aboriginal houses. Like the Wenlock River montage, these displays present Aboriginal viewers with a projection of the set of kin in relation to whom personhood comes into being and continues to be affirmed. The montage of photographs of Maisie and Colin presents a different aspect of distributed personhood (although in their daughter Rebecca’s house this montage is displayed as one of many photographs of living and deceased kin). Here, rather than a projection of the entire field of distributed personhood, the montage


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instead brings into view a composite image of Maisie and Colin through a series of snapshots of their life together. Rather than a set of kin distributed across space, this montage emphasizes Maisie and Colin’s family’s ties to their parents, in-laws, and grandparents through a composite portrait of the married couple. The distribution of personhood across time and across the bodies of consociates helps to explain the haunting force of photographs in Aboriginal contexts as well as the need for the display of images of absent kin. For what photographs reproduce in such contexts are not simply images of kin but images of distributed aspects of the self. Where there is a felt potential for the return or continuing presence of those portrayed—through their return to Coen or an outstation, or through the continuing presence of a benevolent ghost—the display of photographs is comforting, a reiteration of shared personhood. But where a loss is too raw—in particular, immediately following a death—photos simply aggravate the pain of the loss of a consociate who also embodies a vital part of oneself. Conversely, where those pictured are long dead, those parts of the self that depended on their presence for their confirmation have long been abandoned through a process of mourning.14 In such cases, the image of the dead can only rekindle a sense of past relations, providing for brief moments of melancholy in which one’s mind is ‘‘taken back’’ to times shared with them. The complex character of Aboriginal personhood is revealed in the importance of these image relations. In particular, the display of photographs in Aboriginal houses reveals the manner in which ‘‘family ties’’ are not simply ties between individuals. Instead, these are the ties that weave together a field of distributed and dividual personhood; they are simultaneously the ties that bind together a continuing sense of embodied selfhood. The haunting force of images of the dead and the affective power of images of dispersed kin both indicate the manner in which Aboriginal people have taken up the photograph as a means of dealing with the effects of the spatial and temporal dispersal of local life-worlds, a dispersal that is exaggerated by the colonial and postcolonial milieux that introduced photography into the Central Peninsula.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am grateful to the Aboriginal people of Central Cape York Peninsula for their continuing support of my research. In particular, this article has benefited from conversations with David Claudie, Vera Claudie, Waampo Kepple (dec.), Phillip Port, and Rosie Sellars. This article also draws on conversations with Jennifer Deger, Deirdre McKay, Tony Redmond, Bruce Rigsby, and Richard Vokes, who have been profoundly influential on my approach to this topic. Any errors remain my responsibility. I would also like to acknowledge the financial support of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the Australian National University, the Australian Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the University of London, all of whom have provided financial support for the research on which this article is based.

NOTES 1. See Anderson [1995: 9–13] on ‘‘returning,’’ ‘‘reparation,’’ and ‘‘de-collection’’ of objects of cultural relevance to Aboriginal Australians from museums and other institutions. On the return of photographs by anthropologists and other private individuals, see Smith [2003].


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Ties that Bind 341 2. My use of the idea of intersubjectivity follows the sense of the term noted by Merlan [2005: 169], who notes that influential models of subjectivity ‘‘do not begin with a notion of a pre-existing ‘subject’ and then try to specify how that subject comes to relate to others. They begin from a notion of interrelationship and its specific moments of interaction as crucial to the on-going formation of subjectivity. Subjectivity is always fundamentally under construction, and always fundamentally relational.’’ Among anthropologists, Jackson [1996, 1998] offers perhaps the most sustained and insightful account of intersubjectivity. Elsewhere, I explore intersubjectivity and its relation to dividual and distributed forms of personhood more fully [Smith, in preparation]. 3. See also Weiner’s [1999: 241] insightful linking of Munn’s [1970] account of the leaving of parts=images of the self by mythological forebears, which are then introjected by Aboriginal people who come into being in those places subject to that prior mythical action. 4. Obviously projective identification in Western contexts is no less culturally inflected. I should note that other psychoanalytically oriented anthropological accounts of personhood are less ready to use the notion of introjection (and presumably projective identification) cross-culturally. Writing on the Yaka of Southwestern Congo, Devisch [1998] uses the term ‘‘incorporate’’ to denote the social constitution of ‘‘individual identity,’’ but ‘‘avoid[s] the terms intemalisation and introjection, mainly out of respect for the Yaka genius.’’ In contrast, I find the terms useful for an etic analysis of Aboriginal personhood, while noting both the cultural particularities of Aboriginal introjection and projective identification and the comparative critique that Aboriginal personhood offers in relation to the ethnocentric assumptions inherent in much psychoanalytic theory. 5. Compare Strathern [1992: 82] on dividual ‘‘perspectivality’’: ‘‘relations appear as significant extensions of a person’s motivations: others exist in being thought upon.’’ Similarly, it is possible to see links to psychoanalytic theories of introjection in the accompanying description of the Melanesian dividual: ‘‘the singularity of the . . . person is conceptualized as a (dividual) figure that encompasses plurality’’ [Strathern 1992: 82]. In this article I extend the analysis of the dividual from its conceptual or social enactment to encompass its experiential aspects. 6. Perceptions of over-dependence among Aborigines are often problematized in discussions about socioeconomic development. For example, professionals in government agencies and NGOs discussing Aboriginal students’ tendency to drop out of boarding schools often suggest that poor retention rates can be understood partly as the result of the difficulties Aboriginal people experience in being away from their family. 7. This risk is also dealt with by the continuing return of love and projected parts of the self in the form of gifts elicited from consociates. This recalls Klein’s account of the projection of good parts of the self into the external world, and the self’s reintrojection of projected love and its ability to ‘‘take in goodness from other sources’’ [Klein 1975: 144–45]. Like the anxiety that results from the absence of kin, the anxiety produced by a refusal of such requests points to the distributed and dividual character of Aboriginal personhood discussed here. 8. In this article I have focused on photographic portraits of kin. However, it would be possible to extend this argument to include ‘‘portraits of place’’ [Smith 2003], which focus on places whose inherent ancestral substances are held to be shared with particular Aboriginal people. It should also be added that these essences tend to be humanized and associated primarily with the figures of ‘‘old people’’—remembered or forgotten human forebears with particular ties to areas of ‘‘country’’ in Coen’s hinterland. See also Smith [in preparation]; cf. Peterson [2007].


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9. The personal names used in this article, with the exception of long-dead forebears, are pseudonyms. 10. This heritage center, established by Coen’s non-Aboriginal population in response to the development of the town’s Aboriginal ‘‘Culture Centre,’’ is rarely visited by local Aboriginal people. 11. The young man in question was the son-in-law of Maisie’s mother’s younger brother. The young man’s father-in-law later ‘‘warmed’’ the house to ‘‘settle’’ the young man’s spirit. 12. Compare Strathern [1992: 84] on the need to adjust fields of dividual personhood following the death of a consociate: ‘‘at death what is extinguished are the relationships embodied by the deceased.’’ 13. I am indebted to Deirdre McKay in my use of this phrase. See also McKay [this collection]. 14. Aboriginal people in the Central Peninsula say that a person’s shadow persists after death and can be seen alongside the kin he or she associated with during life. But over time this shadow fades away and finally disappears.

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