eth·nog·ra·phy – a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures.
During the 19th century photographers traveled the world to capture images of exotic lands and diverse people. The new medium of photography gave these adventurers the opportunity to bring back to their own lands, images that were indescribable unless you had something to show for it. Photography provided that opportunity. This replaced written descriptions and sketches with the truthful and unbiased eye of the camera.
In this area of photography it is possible to see how individual cultures looked and lived. By studying these images we have a better knowledge of the journey taken over thousands of years, and how for some, nothing had really changed over the millennia.
It was a great challenge to obtain many of these photographs. The photographers had to approach an often hostile group of people who had no understanding of the camera, or the ethnicity of the man behind it. Convincing the sitter that there was no danger or to keep perfectly still was often problematic. Payment of some kind may have helped, but this strange person hiding behind a cloth, crouched over a large box, talking in a strange tongue, did little to help allay the fears of the subject. Indeed there are stories of photographers who traveled to a remote location, never to be heard of again. There are other stories of photographers who literally purchased the subject for a few coins and after producing the image abandoned them.
If it were not for these pioneering photographers we would have no idea how the people of the world looked a hundred or more years ago. Today we have nations of many ethnic backgrounds, but in simpler times of the 19th century, all of these peoples had their own ethnic identities.
In our specialty of Ethnographic Photography our emphasis is on the disappearing people of the world, due to colonization and homogenization of nationalities. These images are as fascinating today as they were a hundred or more years ago, seeing the diverse cultures in their dress, tools, weapons, food and environment.