Photography as an ambigous enterprise
At the end of the 19th century, it became possible to bring the camera into the field. This turned into an indispensable tool for the emerging disciplines of ethnography and anthropology, as well as for missionaries, mountain tourists and various researchers.
Despite a colonizing intent, photo collections might provide a more diverse impression of Sámi peoples and other indigenous groups, when compared to more standardized object collections in museums.
It is difficult to imagine these initiatives without the photograph as physical testimony and public medium. The camera itself also became a sociomaterial actor, drawing the locals and nonlocals together in the construction of the image, as a result of both negotiation and predominance. Despite a colonizing intent, photo collections might provide a more diverse impression of Sámi peoples and other indigenous groups, when compared to more standardized object collections in museums. Even photographic images created for objectifying purposes, like race biology, can be re-appropriated for decolonizing research, as when anonymized individuals are identified anew by name, family and community.
Ernst Manker, ethnographer and curator at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, was a well-known and respected photographer. In the course of many field-trips in Sápmi, he took thousands of photographs showing how Sámi people lived and how they changed their conditions during the decades around the Second World War. Today such photographic collections are invaluable assets in the re-interpretation and re-construction of Sámi cultural heritage.
Bellow camera for roll film, by the brand Ansco. Purchased by curator and researcher Ernst Manker in the 1910s, used during his travels in Lapland in the 1920s and 1930s. Nordic Museum, inv. no NM.0329554. Photo: Peter Segemark.