Visual Anthropology

‘Visual anthropology can be broadly understood as the anthropological study of the visual and the visual study of the anthropological’ (Banks, 2012).

Writing elsewhere, Banks also states: ‘most anthropologists produce visual representations in the course of their work (often photographs, but also video footage, maps, drawings and diagrams) and all societies make visible aspects of their social life and their cultural understandings. Visual anthropology is concerned with understanding the production and consumption of all these forms’ (Banks, 2017).

So, what is the relevance to my current photographic practice? By specialising in food photography, am I in fact practicing a form of visual anthropology?

I would argue that it is.

When we photograph, we are recording not only the trace of the object, but the trace of that objects purpose. Consequently, in doing so we are inevitably recording something of our society and its culture. The artefacts exist or existed, therefore, we must exist or have existed.

I would also argue that this holds true for all forms of photography – including landscapes, which act as proof of our human interest in our environment for aesthetic, industrial and scientific purposes.

‘Photographs are also of growing importance in research, and they have the potential to become an important element of social inquiry; this is because there is a vast and growing stock of photographs relating to social life past and present, but also because we can generate our own photos on many topics we research’ (Tinkler, 2013).

Trends come and go, arguably, trends that stay change their form – sometimes drastically. Salvage ethnography records peoples and cultures which are becoming extinct. Extinction is a fate that awaits the majority of species – it’s just a matter of time. By making visual records of ourselves, our possessions, our environment, and the things we do, we are recording a trace of our existence for both present and future generations. But, beyond that, for whom?



Banks, Marcus (2017) ‘Visual Anthropology’, [online]. Available at: (Accessed: Tuesday 05 September 2017)

Banks, Marcus (2012) ‘Visual Anthropology’, [online]. Available at: (Accessed: Tuesday 05 September 2017)

Tinkler, Penny (2013) Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research, London: SAGE Publications Limited

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