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Friday, December 1, 2017

Southwest Archaeology and “The Time of Vietnam”: Part Two

This post is the fourth in a series of blog posts written by George Washington University students in Dr. Joshua A. Bell's anthropology graduate seminar Visual Anthropology: The Social Lives of Images (Anthro 3521/6591), Fall 2016 graduate course. Dr. Bell is the Curator of Globalization in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology. Students in this course chose a collection that features visual materials (drawings, film, photographs, or paintings) from the National Anthropological Archives, and researched its material, thinking through the scale and scope of the collection and situating it within the wider discipline of anthropology. These collections are available for research at the National Anthropological Archives.

For part one of this blog post, please click here.

Aerial photograph of a Nambe pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 21 “Nambe,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Each of the images in Photo Lot 2010-13, Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, has a name scrawled on the edges in marker, linking the bird’s eye view with the community on the ground. A few of these pueblos emerged in a chapter published by Zubrow (2007) on how the architecture of certain pueblos reflected the landscape that surrounded them, while others did not. Another thing that each photo shares is the mark of a small accessory attached to the camera: in the bottom-right corner, each image has a clock and a counter marking the time and number of the snapshot. Some visual anthropologists have analyzed not just the photographic image itself, but also the “micro-event of the making of the photograph” (Pinney 2012). The counter and clock here are such a “micro-event,” but they are also more: they are part of a whole apparatus that took and collected photographs of much of the world.

While I spent several hours following the roads and mountain ranges of the Zubrow photos, I was drawn mostly to the clocks and counters. I tried to decipher the numbers jotted alongside the counter and across the face of the clock. I got lost in making a chart and reorganizing images by time and by number (the photos are not dated, only time-stamped, and the collection is arranged alphabetically by pueblo name). I found myself wondering what images filled the gaps, and where the planes traveled when they weren’t photographing the American Southwest.

Detail of the U2 camera’s counter and clock from an aerial photograph of a Sandia pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 36 “Sandia,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
In the 1960s, of course, there are many answers to that question. In the beginning of the decade, U2 spy planes were embroiled in international scandals when one was shot down over the Soviet Union and another over Cuba. A camera aboard a U2 was the one that produced the images that revealed Soviet missile launch facilities in Cuba, leading the Cold War superpowers to the brink of nuclear war in 1962. Looking at some of the images from the Cuban Missile Crisis, one could get lost in the trees dotting the landscape and the tiny roads tracing the land. The Zubrow images seem reminiscent of these spy photos but for the labels and arrows appended by some serviceman or intelligence officer to the latter. In his letter to the NAA archivist, Zubrow (2010) opens his description of the first day that he saw the planes with, “This was the time of Vietnam.” Indeed, just as the chalkboard he saw in the base indicated, U2 planes flew over Cuba, China, Vietnam, the Eastern Bloc, and other parts of the world, conducting surveillance missions around the globe throughout that time period. Asking what pictures were taken between the pueblo settlements of Nambe (where the counter reads 0508-0510, see above) and the settlements in Santa Ana (0591-0593) may lead us to surveillance training in Arizona or to any number of Cold War battlefields.

An aerial photograph of a Cochiti pueblo in the American Southwest, Image 4 “Cochiti,” Photo Lot 2010-13: Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos, circa 1967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
This military history leaves an unintended trace on the Zubrow photographs. Christopher Pinney (2012, 154) has referred to a “colonial habitus” that attached certain world-views to the camera in India. Likewise, a literal military world-view is attached to these photos through the apparatus of the U2 camera. And while these photographs are a more mundane and chance example of it, there is a long, sordid, and at times conflicting history of anthropology and the military (see Price 2016 for a recent account of this). Cold War politics aside, this also wasn’t the first time that the U.S. government and anthropologists teamed up to photograph the indigenous Native American population, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The historical baggage that came with military photography, from the American-Indian Wars to the Cold War, are present in the various images of Zubrow’s Southwest field site—if not on the prints themselves, then in their social biographies. The relations and histories that go into the collection’s biography go far beyond even Zubrow’s fascinating story of academic research, military training missions, and transformed landscape. And it’s a biography that now includes a gray box in Photo Lot 2010-13.

Scott Ross, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University



Bibliography
Edwards, Elizabeth. 2012. “Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 221-234.

Pinney, Christopher. 2012. “Seven Theses on Photography.” Thesis Eleven, 113 (1), 141-156.

Photo Lot 2010-13. “Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos.” National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham: Duke University Press.

Zubrow, Ezra B.W. 2007. “Remote Sensing, Fractals, and Cultural Landscapes: An Ethnographic Prolegomenon Using U2 Imagery.” In Remote Sensing in Archaeology, edited by James Wiseman and Farouk El-Baz. New York: Springer, 219-235.

Zubrow, Ezra. 2010. E-mail to NAA archivist Gina Rappaport, April 22. Included in finding aid to Photo Lot 2010-13, “Ezra Zubrow aerial photographs of the Rio Grande Pueblos.” National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

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