Tamsyn Adams completed her Masters degree in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London, in 2009. Currently she is doing her PhD research at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University.
Tamsyn Adams's PhD research focuses on a collection of family photographs from a small town in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in South Africa, concentrating on the period 1850-1961. Part of what makes this photographic collection interesting is the combination of its ‘ordinariness’ together with the volume of data that constitutes it, much of it taken within a specific geographical region. This provides a starting point for several lines of enquiry.
The collection provides a concrete basis for examining the ways in which particular identities (white, English-speaking, settler) were performatively constituted, affected by different senses of belonging, and mediated by various power structures at different historical periods in South Africa. The images also suggest ways in which the idea of a ‘fixed’ identity is challenged through everyday lived experience, and interactions with other ethnic groups; in this case, primarily black Zulu-speaking workers employed by the family. Much of this information is unintentional – a result of the photographs revealing more than was their original intention about social circumstances of the time.
More broadly, the collection highlights the complex relationships between families, photographs, memory, and the written and spoken narratives that animate photographic images. In dealing with a collection of physical objects, the research process will also address questions of preservation and heritage, and processes of digitization and cataloguing. Finally, the process of working with family photographs raises certain ethical concerns, the most immediate involving the collection’s transition from private to public sphere and the ways in which the new layers of meaning introduced by the research affect the ways in which the people continue to relate to their photographs, and the memories and histories tied up in them.
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