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Images as artefacts: film, photography and repatriation in Kenya

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This discussion focuses on the conceptual and methodological issues at play when working with images from the past. Utilising a photographic case study from East Africa, we consider historical context, provenance, and intent. A series of photographs taken or obtained by Canadian psychiatrist Edward L. Margetts in Kenya in the 1950s allow for a broad discussion of what photographs mean; for the photographer, the viewer, and most poignantly, the photographic subjects. We will work through a set of images of the ancient surgical practice of trepanning the skull which was still being performed controversially in the 1950s in one region of Kenya. The traditional practice, often extreme in its medical outcomes, was filmed, photographed and even immortalized in soap stone carvings. The wildly divergent uses and interpretations of one set of images prompts us to ask questions about the use, re-use and misuse of images over time.

Suggested reading: Sloan Mahone, ’”Hat-on, Hat-off”: Trauma and Trepanation in Kisii, western Kenya’, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2014.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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