Fakultäten » Philosophische Fakultät » Sozialanthropologie und Empirische Kulturwissenschaft, Institut für » Völkerkundemuseum » Prof. Dr. Mareile Flitsch » Kümin

Completed research project

Drawings and photographs from brazilian expeditions during the 19th century.
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Original title / Originaltitel BILDER DER GENAUIGKEIT
Zeichnungen und Photographien von Forschungsreisen durch Brasilien im 19. Jahrhundert
Summary / Zusammenfassung In the beginning of the 19th century, Brazil was one of the most exciting places in South America. Its colourful nature, the exotic scenery and the "wild tribes" attracted the curiosity of European scientists and artists. They formed expeditions and traveled through the then unexplored parts of Brazil. Following the great South American explorer and geographer Alexander von Humboldt they studied the tropical land, described it in diaries and letters and documented it through drawings and paintings. The emphasis lay on precise and authentic visual reproduction. So it is not suprising that some artists employed optical aids, for example the camera lucida, for rendering their drawings as true to nature as possible.

In one of these expeditions which was commanded by the Russian Baron von Langsdorff, a young French painter with the name Hercule Florence took part. He created some extremely impressive and ethnographically valuable paintings during this long journey before he settled down in a small village near São Paulo, where he tried to find a way to capture permantently the natural wonders of Brazil. Unknown to the rest of the world, he succeeded in inventing photography in 1832 – seven years before Daguerre, also a painter, announced the discovery of photography in Paris.

It may not be accidental that Hercule Florence was a painter before he experimented with photography and started to draw with light. On the basis of ethnographic images, I argue that photography appeared in the footsteps of drawing and painting and was born in a positivist spirit of capturing the world as real as possible. The field of Anthropology welcomed photography as a long awaited scientific instrument of documentation. From the very beginning it was the preferred media for documenting the different societies. In my paper I will discuss whether or not the invention of photography led to a more authentic and more reliable representation of indigenous culture. Was there a fundamental shift in either? Did photography change the style of visual record, and did it change European perception of native Brazil?

Supported by visual evidence, I demonstrate that the camera‘s eye did not just replace the artist‘s eye and hand. By comparing photographs and drawings the astonishing similarities in expression and style, but also some differencies shall be explored more closely.
Keywords / Suchbegriffe Visual Anthropology, Photography, Brazil
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
Beatrice Kümin (Project Leader)
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
Forschungskredit der Universität Zürich
In collaboration with /
In Zusammenarbeit mit
Prof. Dr. M. Oppitz
Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Sep 2001 to Feb 2006