For part one of this blog post, please click here.
The collection contains a lot of written text. In addition to Smitty’s personal notes, the collection contains vast collections of folk tales—this includes correspondence with anthropologists such as Dr. C. A. Schmitz in the early 1960s about obtaining copies of these tales, and letters indicating their eventual (partial) publication. These folk tales greatly influenced Smitty’s own work—but based on his extensive sketchbook, so did the physical environment around him. Written text, particularly for ethnographers, represents the dominant methodology and way of seeing, telling, and sharing of field research (Geismar 2014). Drawing has not been developed fully as a method for anthropologists, but scholars of visual culture emphasize the ability of drawings to provide a “counter-narrative for fieldwork and dominant paradigms of visual representation” (Gesimar 2014:98).
And what are we to make of Smith’s depiction of one of his first air raids (see image 4)? The blues and contrasts of light suggest to me beauty more than the notion of fear a first military “raid” might be assumed to entail. These sketches (what and how Smith sketched) not only portray the aesthetics of local and military life in these regions, but also hint to how Smith interpreted what he saw—they shine light on his own subject position in the field that complicates his fixed role as military personnel/ethnographer. In “What do Drawings Want,” Michael Taussig romanticizes the potential of drawing in contrast to photographs, and perhaps rightfully so. He writes, discussing John Berger (2007), “a photograph stops time, while a drawing encompasses it” (Taussig 2009:265). Creating images through drawings inevitably takes a greater amount of time then capturing that image in a photograph. Drawings also indicate a more intimate connection between creator and object, inevitably exposing the subject position and viewpoint of creator in a different way than photography. And, in the case of Smith’s collection, in a way that complements the text and gives it deeper nuance of life and meaning.
Evy Vourlides, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology
George Washington University
*Please be aware that the Robert T. Smith Papers at the National Anthropological Archives are currently unprocessed; please contact the Reference Archivist for access information.
Berger, John. 2007. Berger on Drawing, Edited by Jim Savage. London: Occasional Press.
'Ethnographic' Photographs.” In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart, eds. Photographic Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, 47-61. London: Routledge.
Ewing, Donna and Sue Minahan to Robert T. Smith. n.d. “Robert T. Smith Papers (Unprocessed)” The National Anthropological Archives. Smithsonian Institution.
Geismar, Haidy. 2014. “Drawing It Out.” Visual Anthropology Review 30: 97-113.
Taussig, Michael. 2009. “What Do Drawings Want?” Culture, Theory & Critique 50(2-3): 263-274.