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Perceptions, Not Illustrations of Sefrou, Morocco: Paul Hyman’s Images and the Work of Ethnographic Photography

Abstract of paper to be presented by Susan Slyomovics, UCLA, at the conference "Islam Re-Observed: Clifford Geertz in Morocco"

"Anthropology has had no lack of interest in the visual, the problem has been what to do with it" (filmmaker David MacDougall, 1997). In 1969, photographer Paul Hyman spent about four months in the Sefrou region of Morocco at the invitation of anthropologist Paul Rabinow. Although Hyman produced several thousand images during his Sefrou sojourn, approximately 64 black and white photos were selected for the insert in the 1979 publication on Sefrou authored by Clifford Geertz, Hildred Geertz and Lawrence Rosen, Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society: Three Essays in Cultural Analysis. Geertz described Hyman’s work as “visual notations,” and Hyman as “innocent of academic social science who approaches the world through the lens rather than the typewriter” and as the “professional photographer rather than an anthropologist” who “catches the look of the place, its people and places” yet the possessor of “a mindful eye,” an evocative Geertzian oxymoron. What does this mean and what is the work of ethnographic photography?

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