Crawford House Publishing
Moving Images John Layard fieldwork & photography on Malakula since 1914

From 1914 to 1915 Cambridge anthropologist John Layard worked in Malakula in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). This was one of the earliest periods of solitary, intensive fieldwork within the developing discipline of British social anthropology. As a student of the famed ethnologist and psychologist William Rivers, he was attracted by the region's megalithic culture, known for the large stones and ancestor figures erected during a long ceremonial cycle known as Maki. Based near the village of Ruruar on the islet of Atchin, Layard voyaged with local friends to their gardens on mainland Malakula and travelled extensively in the region.

Layard worked enthusiastically with his local assistants to document and understand the customary lives of the people, taking copious notes and over 450 photographs. His collection of objects and glass plate negatives are housed in the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. This book contains over 300 of these evocative images, most previously unpublished, united for the first time with Layard's field notes and captions. They provide an extraordinary record of the elaborate ritual and culture of Small Islanders and reveal photography's role as an evidential and subjective medium vital to the practice of social anthropology.

Unlike those of his contemporaries, Layard's images are participatory and experiential—taken amidst local activities and ritual exchanges. He established close relations with his assistants, recording the names of many people with whom he lived and worked. The warm feelings Layard expressed towards his Malakulan friends were reciprocated. Commonly called T'soni (Johnny), Layard was also known on Atchin by the Maki title Meldek-were-were, the 'High Lord of Talk'. He is still remembered by some ni-Vanuatu as the first white man who wore the nambas (penis sheath) and participated in kastom dances.

Layard's photographs have played a crucial role in forming ideas about culture and society, both in Vanuatu and within anthropology. His writings and images have recently been used by ni-Vanuatu as records of traditional life and to encourage cultural revitalisation. This book follows these moving images from their creation, through their circulation in different media throughout Europe and America, and back to their places of origin. It explores the resonance of these images in the intellectual history of anthropology and illuminates the social history of the discipline as a cross-cultural enterprise that connects Western scholarship to indigenous interests within the encounter of fieldwork.


Anita Herle of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Haidy Geismar of the New York University


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254 duo-tone photographs, maps


Hard cased, 352 pages, maps, index


260 x 220 mm



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