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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Anthropology, Photography and the Field of Memory

Photograph by Patti Langton, courtesy of the Pitt-Rivers MuseumPatti Langton, a British anthropologist and documentary film-maker, lived in Sudan 1979-1980 with the Larim (or Boya) people, cattle pastoralists whose homeland lies near South Sudan’s borders with Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. 

Her remarkable photographic and sound archive has recently been acquired by the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, where she is a Research Associate. The photographs document the lives of a remote people on the eve of war, the prolonged period of national conflict that has since engulfed the Larim and other communities in South Sudan. 

Patti Langton offered personal reflections on her work and discussed the fate of these images from creation to curation—from the moment of taking a photograph to its afterlife in a museum. She analysed the photographs as ethnographic objects, detailing what they show about the historical moment they were taken, about her role as an anthropologist and about the significance of the artefacts and practices recorded in the images, including the advent of automatic weapons, and the first arrival of the camera itself.

The talk was introduced by John Ryle, whose research also focusses on South Sudan.

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