Hannah M. Tavares, an associate professor in the University of Hawaii's Department of Educational Foundations, has published a variety of articles on the topics of gender, ethnicity, identity, and educational theory. Her Pedagogies of the Image: Photo-archives, Cultural Histories, and Postfoundational Inquiry is a natural successor to these works, even if “photo-archives” is a new addition. Throughout the book, archives is used neither in the practitioner's sense nor exactly in the Derridean conceptual sense, but instead as a broad umbrella term for “historical documents,” regardless of their context.1 As part of the SpringerBriefs in Education series, which are formatted as hybrids of books and journals and are intended to be shorter (and more rapidly published) than traditional monographs, this text is structured more like an edited volume than a monograph; each chapter has its own abstract, and each chapter (with the exception of the first and last, which function as introduction and conclusion) could stand alone as an academic essay. As an aggregate, the work feels, in many ways, only loosely tied together by its premise—to analyze three photographs as evidence and sites of identity and voice, and to explore the possibility that the analysis of photographs can provide insight into narratives that have been underexplored in history. Tavares writes that the book will support multiple readings, but for archivists, the most engaging reading is likely to be as a case study in the critical interpretation of images and their contexts.
Chapter 1, “Why Photo-Archives,” functions as both introduction and manifesto. Citing thinkers like Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and Eduardo Cadava, Tavares advocates challenging the existing standards and accepted modes of thought, teaching, and research, and in particular she reacts against the idea of purely empirical study or neutral objects of study. Photographs, in the analytical approach that Tavares recommends, “are characterized by the duration of traces of other social relations and human practices of differing times (temporality) and locations (spatiality)” (p. 8)—and all of this context and cultural history must be considered. She questions, too, the impulse to identify and categorize, particularly as a governmental function that may impose (or strip away) identities. The danger of systematic identification and categorization, Tavares warns, “is the possibility that there exist experiences and subjectivities that are not only resistant and constrained by the category and its boundaries, but othered by its production” (p. 12). Tavares grounds her analyses in Paolo Freire's critical pedagogy—the perspective that education has the potential to be structurally and functionally oppressive, and that teachers and learners alike must actively engage with each other and their objects of study to confront and mediate this oppression. The author introduces and explores intriguing ideas throughout the text, particularly as regards the potential of images to challenge established narratives.2
The dense nature of the introductory chapters balances out in the middle segments, which are more narrative-driven, though they still incorporate aspects of theory and cultural history; these chapters are exercises in what Marianne Hirsch called postmemory, driven by personal and emotional connection but from a temporal distance.3 Chapters 3 through 5 each examine a specific image of one of the author's female ancestors: in chapter 3, it's her paternal great-grandmother, Julia, in her graduation photo at Hawaii's Kamehameha School for Girls, a photograph Tavares mines for its commentary on indigenous education, colonialism, and feminism. In chapter 4, the featured photograph includes the author's mother in a family photo that is analyzed as a representation—and a mythologization—of family. The analysis is again a mixture of history (cultural, agricultural, racial) and personal memoir, one that produces the most engaging narrative of the text. However, Tavares's basic premise—to highlight the “rarely seen perspective of the structurally unprivileged and devalued” is undercut by her own lack of acknowledgment of the service worker in the photograph she discusses (p. 71).4 Chapter 5 focuses on Tavares's paternal grandmother Lillian's certificate of Hawaiian birth, a document asserting Lillian's native Hawaiian ancestry, which includes the only photograph the author has seen of her grandmother, and serves as a basis for exploration of identity, demographics, and agency.
Taken as a whole, these three chapters offer a convincing (for those who need convincing) argument for the incompleteness and potential oppressiveness of traditional descriptive practices. Tavares notes that “theories and philosophies of photography have something to offer education studies because of the way they complicate the pull of representationalism and its reliance on a stable referent,” and this offering is relevant to archives as well—indeed, perhaps the most relevant message of the book for archives professionals (p. 99). Despite such statements, however, and the book's ostensible focus on images, at times, the photographs discussed in these chapters feel like props for desired discussions of colonialism, feminism, race, and oppression, rather than objects of study in and of themselves.
Chapter 6, in a departure from the rest of the book, discusses the author's partnering with a local community group in her work with photographs and explores the academic in nonacademic spaces. The story of seeking common ground, of attempting to ground research practices in real-life needs of community members, falls short of being a practical case study, but can offer some insight to archivists working with community projects, particularly as regards the need to shift away from an academic register when dealing with nonacademic audiences.
By the book's conclusion, the author has noted that more work needs to be done, but archivist readers may wonder why much of the existing body of literature isn't acknowledged in this volume—writings from archivists and visual anthropologists, in particular, are undercited.5 This book functioned, for me, as a reminder that although the language of archives is coming into increasingly common usage throughout the world, interdisciplinary literature has not adopted the literature of archives as widely as it could—and ought to. Readers familiar with the recent Perspectives on Women's Archives will note that it, too, would have provided helpful context for this work, with its essays on complementary topics like public versus private archives, the representation of women in archives, and the representation of absence.6 If you're simply looking for a book on how to teach using archival images, this text is not that resource.7 It can, however, offer insight to those interested in theories of representation, those wrestling with the issues of identity and insider/outsider issues in description, and those hoping to broaden their view of how photographs may be interpreted.
1 Ostensibly, this choice is made to expand the idea of what archives can be, as Tavares claims that “[c]ritically, the archive is no longer treated simply as a space where records are collected, arranged, described, and preserved by what Brien Brothman calls ‘disinterested socio-technical agents’ (2004, p. 83)” (p. vii).
2 A more archivally focused exploration of some of these ideas may be found in works like Tim Schlack's “Framing Photographs, Denying Archives: The Difficulty of Focusing on Archival Photographs,” Archival Science 8 (2005): 85–101.
3 Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).
4 Tavares specifically notes, in fact, that there are eight people in the photograph, but this counts only those patrons seated around the table, not the waiter behind them, directly facing the camera (p. 71).
5 Elizabeth Edwards, for instance, whose interdisciplinary work on photography relates deeply to many of Tavares's central points, shows up once in the bibliography but never in the body of the text.
6 Tanya Zanish-Belcher with Anke Voss, eds. Perspectives on Women's Archives (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2013).
7 For those who saw the book's title and hoped for such a resource, however, the Southern Poverty Law Center's “Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice” (http://www.tolerance.org/lesson/using-photographs-teach-social-justice) may be of interest and may be seen in some ways as a practical counterpart to the theoretical explorations of Pedagogies of the Image.