Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes: Fellowship Recipient

Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes: Fellowship Recipient

I’m Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes. I’m based
at the University of Cambridge as an Affiliated Lecturer and Research Associate at the Centre
of South Asian Studies and I’m a Fellow at Clare Hall. I have been recently awarded
one of the Marlene Nathan Meyerson photography fellowships to do research on visual priming
and representations of antiquity in 19th century photographs of Ceylon. There is a particular
visual rhetoric of photographs that have been taken not only in India, but across the world
in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And that rhetoric has a lot of, if you want, cannons of the
picturesque, of the travelogue, of the exotic. So when you look at images like this sometimes
you think, I’ve seen it before. But in an album – a mishmash of photographs
from around the world, some of them identified, some not – at some point I came across an
image I could barely see; it’s deteriorated, faded, but not crumbling. Then I said this
is an image of most possibly of a Tamil man climbing a coconut palm tree. I said I’ve
seen about up to 60 images like this from all the other archives where I’ve been working.
But then I said there is something new about it and I looked carefully and I
realized that what happened in this case was a reverse of the photographic practice that
was embraced by studio photographers and they were recreating the so-called real life in
their studio against the painted wall. In this case, you have that image transported
outdoors. So the man, the Tamil man, in this photograph is carrying a lot of props and
tools that he wouldn’t have necessarily needed in real life and I thought this is
a very good case study, not only for visual anthropologists like me, but also for scholars
of material culture. You look at the photograph you look at what it means, you look at the
album in itself and also you start to think, how rare is it that you can move past your
assumptions about what the research center might contain and you plunge in and you say
actually perhaps I will find something.

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