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Exposure: the ethics of making, sharing and displaying photographs of human remains



This article will query the ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains. In particular, we will focus on the role of photography in constituting human remains as specimens, and the centrality of the creation and circulation of photographic images to the work of physical anthropology and bioarchaeology. This work has increasingly become the object of ethical scrutiny, particularly in the context of a (post)colonial politics of recognition in which indigenous people seek to recover dominion over their looted material heritage, including the remains of their dead. This ethical concern extends to the question of how and under what circumstances we may display photographs of human remains. Moreover, this is not just a matter of whether and when we should or should not show photographs of the remains of the dead. It is a question of how these images are composed and produced. Our discussion of the ethics of the image is, therefore, indivisible from a consideration of the socio-technical process by which the photographic image is produced, circulated and consumed.
Exposure: the ethics of making,
sharing and displaying
photographs of human remains
John Harries, Linda Fibiger, Joan Smith
University of Edinburgh
Tal Adler, Anna Szöke Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
This article will query the ethics of making and displaying photographs of human
remains. In particular, we will focus on the role of photography in constituting
human remains as specimens, and the centrality of the creation and circulation of
photographic images to the work of physical anthropology and bioarchaeology. This
work has increasingly become the object of ethical scrutiny, particularly in the con-
text of a (post)colonial politics of recognition in which indigenous people seek to
recover dominion over their looted material heritage, including the remains of their
dead. This ethical concern extends to the question of how and under what circum-
stances we may display photographs of human remains. Moreover, this is not just
a matter of whether and when we should or should not show photographs of the
remains of the dead. It is a question of how these images are composed and pro-
duced. Our discussion of the ethics of the image is, therefore, indivisible from a
consideration of the socio-technical process by which the photographic image is
produced, circulated and consumed.
Key words:Ethics, photography, human remains, art, archaeology
Our article is about photographs of human remains. We are concerned with the
rights and wrongs of making, sharing and displaying such photographs. As such,
this article sits at the intersection of two discussions. The rst is the discussion of
the rights and wrongs of the public display of ‘real’ human remains in museums
and galleries. The second concerns the rights and wrongs of photographing oth-
ers and in particular the ethics of displaying photographs of the dead and dying.
These two discussions are, of course, closely allied; yet, despite the fact that human
remains are much photographed and these images are variously brought before
the public in museums and galleries as well as online and in print, there is little
consideration of the ethics of making and displaying such photographs and, more
specically, of making and displaying photographs of dry bones. In addressing the
rights and wrongs of displaying photographs of human remains we are, therefore, in
part raising the questions of how to bring these two discussions into conversation
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John Harries et al.
and to what extent, if at all, we can extend ethical concerns and guidance relating to
the display of actual human bones to the display of photographs of human bones.
The concern with the ethics of making and displaying images of human remains
emerges from our own practice. The authors of this article come from diverse back-
grounds. Some of us are artists. Some are bioarchaeologists or physical anthropolo-
gists. Some are social or cultural anthropologists. We have been brought together by
a shared interest in human remains – what they may reveal about past lives and how
they inhabit contemporary culture. This shared interest has given rise to a shared
project, entitled Dead Images. At the heart of this project is the ambition to curate
an exhibition which features a 30-metre long, life-sized high-resolution photograph,
created by Tal Adler, of a glass-faced cabinet with roughly 8,000 skulls (or parts of
skulls), which are sequentially numbered and arrayed on shelves in a corridor of the
Natural History Museum of Vienna.1
We will return to a discussion of the questions raised by the intention to show
such a photograph in the conclusion, but as a way into this discussion we will begin
with another image, or collection of images. We are indeed brought together by our
shared interest in human remains, even as this interest has been cultivated within
distinct disciplines. One aspect of this shared interest is that, even previous to the
project to display a photograph of a collection of craniological specimens, we each
in our dierent ways have dealt in photographic images of human remains. They
were and are part of our work as artists, anthropologists and archaeologists. One
such image, an old photograph found in an archive, was unearthed by John in the
course of his work and we will start with this photograph. Or, in fact, we will start
without it, because the choice has been made not to include it with the text of this
article and it is this decision, and the muddled thinking behind it, which initially
animates our concern with the ethics of showing images of human remains.
The body of a child
For some years now John has been studying the ways in which the people of New-
foundland, Canada remember the Beothuk. The Beothuk were a people indigenous
to the island of Newfoundland. They are now said (by most) to be extinct. The date
of their extinction is conventionally given as 6 June 1829, when a young woman
named Shanawdithit died in a hospital in St John’s, then and now the capital and
principal town of the island.2The precise cause of this extinction is debated, but
what is beyond debate is that the coming of settlers from England and Ireland,
people whose descendants now consider themselves the ‘natives’ of Newfoundland,
precipitated the annihilation of the indigenous people of the island. These settlers
brought with them diseases and guns. Some may have cultivated a benign, if pater-
nalistic, concern for the welfare of the benighted Beothuk. Others, however, were
not so well disposed and engaged in acts of cruelty and slaughter.3
Despite (or maybe because of) this unfortunate history, aer the death of
Shanawdithit and the extinction of her people some of the English and Irish settlers
and their descendants, who now considered themselves to be ‘native’ Newfoundlan-
ders, set about remembering the Beothuk. This work of memory was and is material.
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Ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains
It involves discovering and gathering together what remains of a ‘vanished’ people.
Amongst these remains are bodies, or what is le of bodies, that have been found
in the company of grave goods and beneath birch bark and loose stones. Years aer
the Beothuk ‘disappeared’ from the island inquisitive (or acquisitive) settlers looted
these graves, pulling away earth and stone and sheets of bark and taking what they
found. Some of this stu was kept privately, but much of it found its way to cities
and into the collections of museums and universities.4
One such looted grave was that of child. The grave was discovered in 1886 on an
island lying at the entrance to Pilley’s Tickle in Notre Dame Bay, one of the north-
ern bays of the island of Newfoundland. It may have been discovered by ‘geologists’
surveying the island for copper or it may have been discovered by children picking
berries. No matter. The grave was discovered and what lay therein was unearthed.
Its contents included two little models of birch-bark canoes, a toy-sized bow and
arrow, a packet of dried sh neatly wrapped and other such goods. It also included
the body of a child, wrapped in a shroud fashioned from the caribou-skin sleeve of
the coat of an adult.5All these were taken away to St John’s and into the collection
of the museum that had been created by the geologist James P. Howley. He put the
little body and the things that travelled with it on display in ‘case 13’, which also held
the skull and ‘arm bone’ of an adult Beothuk and a profusion of stone spear points,
axes and other ‘implements.6
The museum of Newfoundland (eventually Newfoundland and Labrador) had a
troubled history, suering from neglect and closure and more neglect, the collection
being moved from one place to another, scattered and then reassembled. But the lit-
tle body and most of its grave goods survived these changes and, except when there
was no museum at all, were on display to the public. The body may have been nally
withdrawn from display in 1976, when the museum exhibits where once again ren-
ovated and redesigned.7Nowadays the Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador is
housed in a modern building of brown stone, blue-tinted glass and a red pitched roof
designed to be reminiscent of the traditional ‘salt-box’ houses of rural Newfound-
land. The little body is nowhere to be seen. It is still in the keeping of the province,
but is held with other Beothuk remains in the archaeology department of Memorial
University. Access to this space is severely restricted, with permission at a ministerial
level being required to even view, let alone interact with, the Beothuk remains.
Being interested in how Newfoundlanders remember the Beothuk, John has been
gathering archival material that relates to this story. In so doing he came across
the mention of a photograph, originally taken in 1908 by Alfred Hugh Fischer
and now held in the Royal Commonwealth Society Collections of the University
of Cambridge. The archive entry reads:
Beothuk remains. Half-plate (landscape format). Found in a grave on small island
called Pilley’s Tickle in Notre Dame Bay. In foreground skeleton of a Beothuk man is
seen, and on shelf looking down is an Esiquimau Kajak (Labrador) with a gure on it.8
He requested that a digital copy of the image be made and sent to him and it duly
arrived on a CD-ROM. He clicked on the le and the image came before him in
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John Harries et al.
shades of grey.9The camera’s gaze is focussed on the child’s body, which lies upon a
plank of wood, supported at either end by display cases, one seeming to house shells
and the other more bits of human bone. The body is mostly bone, although some
skin still stretches across the shoulder and upper arms. It lies on its side, facing the
camera, if the empty eye-sockets and nasal cavity are taken to be a face. Its knees are
drawn up towards its chest. It seems that the shroud of caribou skin has been drawn
aside so as to better see the body. This creates an odd eect, as if this child has been
exposed, made naked before the gaze of the photographer and any who look upon
the photograph.
This is not the only photograph of the body of the Beothuk child found on an
island in Notre Dame Bay. A bit more online archival digging unearthed a digi-
tised image held in the collections of the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland
and Labrador. The image is entitled ‘Beothuck Relics’. The archival entry describes
this as an image of a ‘Boudoir card’ made sometime between 1870 and 1908 by
S. H. Parsons, a cabinet maker-become-photographer who, by the turn of the cen-
tury, operated a ‘Photographic Studio and Fine Art Emporium’ on Water Street in
St John’s.10 The image is sepia coloured and framed by a red border. In the centre is
the body of the child, still curled in a foetal position but with the caribou-skin cov-
ering drawn up over the shoulders. Arranged about it are more and bigger human
bones: a skull, some ribs, two long bones crossed. There are also pendants carved
from bone, birch-bark containers, little model canoes, stone axe heads and scrap-
ers and so on. A black and white photo of the child’s body appears also appears on
page 331 of James P. Howley’s book The Beothucks or Red Indians of Newfoundland,
rst printed 1915.11 A locally published ‘biography’ of Demasduit by Bernard Fardy
also features a photograph of the remains of the child, taken by the author him-
self on a visit to the Newfoundland Museum in 1976 and printed with the caption:
‘mummied skeleton of a Beothuck child – buried in typical Beothuck death repose
and sewn up in birch bark.12
Nor is Fardy the only person to have taken a photograph of the body of the
Beothuk child while visiting the museum. In response to a requestfor reminiscences
by those who could remember seeing the child when on display, a woman named
Glenys Cocker sent John a digital scan of a photograph taken by her husband in the
early 1970s when he visited the museum as a ten-year-old schoolchild. It has the
look of a photo taken by a child in the 1970s. It is out of focus. Its colours have faded
into muted shades of pink, yellow and brown. With the photograph came Glenys’s
own memories of visiting the museum and seeing the Beothuk bodies. She writes:
As a child I visited the museum many many times with my parents and I remem-
ber well the Beothuk skeletons on display. Having never seen human remains before
I was fascinated with them. It was a lot for a young child to absorb; that these were
once living breathing people who lived here on this island long before anyone else did.
I especially felt a deep sense of sadness for the child, whose body lay on its le side in a
glass cabinet, almost in a foetal position, with a tiny ‘doll’ resting next to it. I remember
the arms and other parts of the body appearing to still have what I thought was skin
covering the bones – very dark and leather like. It was dicult to tell approximately
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how old the child was. From the size of the body it must have been fairly young.
I couldn’t help but picture he or she running and playing, having a family and parents
who loved it. So very sad.
So, like memories, these photographs move (in both registers of the word) and may
be shared, even as the little body itself has been withdrawn from public view, with
any intimacy, any exposure, being tightly regulated. They move even more freely
now that they exist digitally, allowing for unlimited reproduction, circulation and
myriad possibilities for display. The body itself, the stu of skin and bone, may, from
the perspective of any but the select few, be gone, but the images go on, reproducing,
proliferating, with the potential to enter the public domain more or less at the whim
of the person who possesses a copy of the photograph, so long as they are mindful
of the legalities of copyright.
The question, therefore, besides proprietorial concerns over images rights, is
this: what, if any, ethical considerations should inform and impinge on the deci-
sion to reproduce and display photographs of the part-mummied body of the
Beothuk child or, indeed, any human remains? Should we, for example, insert the
photographs taken by Alfred Hugh Fisher or S. H. Parsons or Glenys Cocker’s hus-
band into this paper so as to share them with any who may read it? Aer all, we
can see them. In craing the descriptions of the photographs we moved back and
forth between the image and the emerging text, opening one le and then the other,
tweaking the descriptions so that they roughly correspond with what we see (and
don’t see) in the digital image. It is a curious and maybe perverse thing to withhold
them. A picture is, as the cliché goes, worth a thousand words. Yet we have decided to
withhold them – to not, for example, share the image of the small body laid exposed
on a plank of wood suspended between two glass-covered display cases.
This is an ethical decision. We have chosen not to do so because it feels ‘wrong,
but these feelings are inchoate and somewhat whimsical. We could have equally
decided, given the purpose of this piece and that it is intended for an academic jour-
nal which will largely be read by an academic audience, that it would be right and
proper to have this photograph displayed alongside the text of our article. Maybe
it would be wrong to have this image made into a postcard (or even a ‘boudoir
card’). Maybe it would be wrong to include it in a visual lecture to be given to school
children (which was the original remit for Alfred Hugh Fisher’s photographic explo-
ration of the British Empire, which included a trip to the museum in St John’s13). But
in a scholarly journal, maybe it is OK? Alternatively, maybe it is the composition,
rather than the content, of the image itself that is the problem? In contrast to the
photograph taken by Fisher, the image in Howley’s book corresponds to the epis-
temic aesthetics governing the appropriate photographic display of human remains
as specimens. The body, laid on its side and facing the camera, is pictured against
a creamy-white background. It is pure, lied away from the architecture and detri-
tus of display – no plank of wood, no cases of shells or squid in glass jars – and
joined only by the things that accompanied it into the aerlife and then on its
trip to St Johns. Maybe this is a less ‘dicult’ image and so more appropriate for
reproduction within the pages of an academic journal?
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John Harries et al.
The point is that, in contrast to the considerable body of writing and institutional
guidance concerning the rights and wrongs of displaying human remains in the
esh (and skin and bone), the reproduction and publication of images of human
remains has received next to no attention. This leaves those of us who, in our var-
ious ways, trade in such images – gathering them to us, integrating them into our
work, whether that work be anthropological, archaeological or artistic, and, through
this work, sharing them with others – to negotiate ethical questions according to
our rough, and oen inarticulate, sense of what we should and should not do. In
addressing the images of the body of a Beothuk child, unearthed and exposed at the
close of the nineteenth century, as well as other images of human remains that we
are creating and working with, we wish to render this ethical sense more articulate –
to think about, if not resolve, the rightness and wrongness of the ways in which we
work with photographs of the remains of dead bodies.
The ethics of handling and displaying human skeletal remains
One possible way to respond to these ethical questions concerning the making, cir-
culation and display of images of human remains is to turn to the better-developed
guidance relating to the handing and display of ‘actual’ remains, particularly in
the archaeological and museological context. So, who interacts professionally with
archaeological human remains on a daily basis, and what guides this interaction?
Various legal obligations as well as codes of ethics, codes of practice and policy
documents exist.14 These documents are generally created by museums and higher
education authorities, as well as professional bodies and cultural heritage associa-
tions. This section focusses on the aims and limitations of regulations and guidelines
for the handling, storage and display of human remains. It will focus mostly on the
situation in England as a case study to exemplify some of the issues involved.
These days, human skeletal remains arrive in heritage and higher education insti-
tutions as a result of commercial or research-related archaeological work, although
the former is responsible for the majority of more recently excavated remains in col-
lections. Legislation recognises the special status of human remains within the large
body of material recovered during archaeological work. A special licence, issued by
the Ministry of Justice, is required for the excavation of human remains in England
and Wales.15 Once remains are removed from an archaeological site, they become
the responsibility of the company or institution analysing and curating them. This
can include commercial archaeological companies, national and local museums and
university departments, all of which operate in accordance with in-house policies
and guidelines,16 and/or adapt those issued by national of international govern-
ments and heritage bodies,17 which themselves oen refer to or implicitly embrace
wider, internationally recognised standards and practice.18 These documents con-
tain advice on wide-ranging issues, from the practical (e.g. legal obligations and
limitations; best practice related to health and safety, short- and long-term storage
and analytical methodology and standards) to the more complex and at times less
tangible issues of consent, respect, cultural aliation, ownership and the merits and
prospects of scientic engagement with the remains.19 Closely linked with the latter
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Ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains
are concepts of academic freedom, i.e. the idea of the right to pursue research and
the parameters in which this is acceptable – especially with regard to extant popu-
lations with cultural or spiritual links to the skeletal populations in question or in
situations of perceived or experienced unequal power relationships, past or present,
relating to colonial heritage.20
An oen-explored issue with regard to archaeological human remains are the
questions of if and how these remains may be displayed to the wider public, which
is as much about appropriate interaction with the remains of the dead (reected in
the – for lack of a better concept – oen referred-to importance of respect), as it
is about concerns with how members of the public may experience this encounter
with the dead – the ‘body in a museum’.21
While this article cannot explore in depth all of the complex and culturally diverse
ideas around human remains as symbolic objects,22 at a very basic level a look at
skeletal remains, no matter what their chronological age or cultural origin, creates
a link with our own body and its mortality.23 While surveys have shown that there
is broad public support for the display of human remains in museums in general,24
these surveys do not usually capture more intrinsic data about whether people feel
equally comfortable with all types of human remains, but a 2001 survey by Rumsey
asked the pertinent question of what types of remains people would rather not like
to see in a museum.25 At the top were medically preser ved remains as well as remains
of babies, probably highlighting the dierence in attitudes towards skeletonised
remains and those with so tissue (which are also much easier to recognise as identi-
able individuals to a non-specialist), as well as a recognition of children and infants
as vulnerable and inherent protective instincts towards them. At the same time, a
visitors’ survey relating to the display of a skeletal series of foetuses and children
at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in the United States, consisting
of interviews rather than a simple lists of short questions, generated responses that
reected curiosity rather than distress about the origins and fate of the individuals
displayed (e.g., how did they die? How did their remains get to the museum?)26
No matter what the institution displaying the remains, there have always been
dedicated concerns about doing things the right way, ethically and professionally.
Many museums increasingly use the concept of sign-posting, i.e., raising aware-
ness of the presence of human remains so as to avoid people coming across them
unaware (for a good example see the National Museum of Ireland exhibition ‘King-
ship and Sacrice27 ). Images of human remains, digital ones in particular, are of
course much more dicult to sign-post, especially once they enter the World Wide
Web. Interestingly, policy and ethics guidance for images of skeletal remains is more
limited and, if existing, much broader than that for actual remains.28 The UK gov-
ernment’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) guidance mentions
that ‘in considering any photography, views of cultural communities and genealog-
ical descendants should be considered where known.29 This is oen not possible
with archaeological remains of considerable time-depth, while as recently as 2014
Antoine highlighted that ‘the use of images of human remains is seldom discussed in
guidance documents or most of the relevant literature and would benet from fur-
ther debate’30 This state of aairs that does not seem to have changed signicantly
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in the intervening years. Like the DCMS guidelines, Antoine goes on to under-
line the British Museums concern with cultural sensitivity and restrictions to lm
and photography within the museum – which does not address many of the issues
raised by the image of the Beothuk child: without obvious descendants (if consid-
ering the Beothuk extinct), there is nobody to consult; The individual is a child –
does that make a dierence? There is preserved so tissue – does that alter how we
should approach this image? Is this an appropriate image of human remains in terms
of its composition, the way in which and where the body is arranged/displayed?
The image is clearly a historic one – would and should there be a dierent way of
photographing the body now – and if so, dierent in what way?
Disclosed within these questions is a more general problematic. To what extent
can we extend the ethical guidance that pertains to the handling and display of ‘real’
human remains to photographic images of these remains? The paucity of guidance
relating to such images suggests two possibilities. The rst possibility is that images
of human remains are like human remains and in their likeness the ethical consid-
erations which inform the display of ‘real’ human remains should likewise inform
the display of images of human remains. So, if the decision to put a child’s body in a
glass case and set that case before the gaze of the public should be mindful of public
sensibilities and, in particular, the thoughts and feelings of those people who are
kindred to that child (however that kinship be articulated and recognised), we must
be similarly considerate of public sentiment and ‘the views of cultural communi-
ties and genealogical descendants’ when thinking about circulating and showing an
image of that body.
The second possibility is that in its likeness the image is somehow not so much
a worry, and that even as we may extend the same ethical considerations from the
body to photographs of the body they are nonetheless dierent. So, given that our
ethical concerns are articulated with reference to the substance of the body as thing
of skin and bone that even in decay bears the traces of vital being, such concerns
fall away, or soen, when we deal in images, which are, aer all, something other
than the real thing. The fact is that, even though these two positions would seem
antithetical, they both hinge on how we conceptualise the relationship between the
photographic image and the thing photographed. In particular, we would suggest,
they both hinge on the notion of likeness and the centrality of an epistemology of
depiction when considering the nature and value of photographs of human remains.
Transparency, proximity and appropriation
One question that preoccupies those who are given to thinking philosophically
about the nature of the image is how, if at all, photographs may be considered to be a
dierent kind of image to, say, a line drawing. In other words, and to quote Kendall
Walton, ‘what is . . . special about photography?’31 One answer to this question
seems to be that photographs are dierent because of the quality of the relationship
between the image and the thing it depicts.
For Walton, who draws much inspiration from a foundational article by André
Bazin,32 what distinguishes the photograph is its ‘realism’. This is, however, not
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realism understood as verisimilitude or accuracy (aer all, as Watson notes, if
this were so, then some drawings may be much more ‘realistic’ than some pho-
tographs).33 Photographs are, rather, realistic because they are ‘transparent’, in the
sense that we ‘see the world through them’.34 This quality of transparency is bound
up in the mechanical nature of photography as a means of capturing and conveying
an image of the world out there and, by extension, the ‘ontological commitment’35
of the photograph, the fact that it can only and ever be an image of something that
was there before and beyond the image. This commitment means, as Susan Sontag
argues, that the ‘identication of the subject of the photograph always dominates
our perception of it.36 In this respect, unlike a drawing or a written description,
photography is a medium for perceiving the world in that it allows us or anyone
who views a photograph, no matter how poorly focussed or distorted, to make ‘per-
ceptual contact’ with that world, to see through the photograph towards its subject,
in a way that a depiction or description craed by an artist or author cannot. So, if
we return to the example of the bodily remains of the Beothuk child, our written
description, even in its aspiration to accuracy, does not allow the reader to perceive
the body, while the inclusion of a photograph, even the out-of-focus photograph
taken by a ten-year-old boy, would.
Mikael Pettersson takes up this line of argument to suggest that, phenomenolog-
ically, the photograph allows a sense of proximity or intimacy with that which is
photographed. This is an intimacy conveyed through the lighted air and the trans-
formation of the surface upon which the image materialises. There is, and here
Pettersson quotes Roland Barthes, ‘a sort of umbilical cord’ which ‘links the body
of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal
medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed’.37 ‘Photographs
are, according to Pettersson, ‘literally traces of what they are photographs of.38 In
this sense photographs are epistemologically privileged not by virtue of their being
a more ‘accurate’ depiction but in that they provide ‘epistemic access to what they
are of.39 None the less, to look upon a photograph is not the same as ‘really’ see-
ing something. The latter involves a spatial proximity – a being close by or coming
face-to-face; however, as Pettersson argues, photographs,
by allowing us to see things in their surfaces, by oering quasi-illusionistic experi-
ences of objects, trade on this connection between perception and spatial proximity,
yielding, as a result, an experience of closeness to them.40
This play of distance and proximity, intimacy and detachment, hints at a certain
ambivalence concerning photography and its relationship between the photograph
and the thing (or person) photographed. Pettersson touches on this when he cites
fanciful tales of ‘savages’ ‘who fear having their photograph taken due to the “archaic
belief” that this would imply having their soul stolen.41 For Pettersson, this is to
misunderstand the nature of photographic traces as imprints rather than substantial
extensions of the thing itself. Nothing substantial is actually taken when one takes
a photograph. What this suggests, however, is that, in a way wholly dierent to the
perceiving of another within the context of the face-to-face encounter, the creation
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and circulation of this ‘depictive trace’ constitutes the possibility of losing possession
of oneself or coming into the possession of another.
Ethics and ambivalence of the photograph
For Sontag, the photograph is distinguished from descriptive writing, painting and
drawing not only by the illusion of transparency, achieved through the mechanics
of ‘taking’ a picture, but also by it capacity to allow for the appropriation of the thing
photographed in and through its image. She writes that,
To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself in
a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power.
A now notorious rst fall into alienation, habituating people to abstract the world into
printed worlds, is supposed to have engendered that surplus of Faustian energy and
psychic damage needed to build modern inorganic societies. But print seems a less
treacherous form of leaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than
photographic images, which provide most of the knowledge that people have of the
look of the past and the reach of the present. . . . Photographic images do not seem
to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that
anyone can make or acquire.42
Sontag’s critique of photography may have been developed in reference to war
photography, and particularly photographs of the Vietnam War,43 but it also may be,
and has been,44 extended to a critical engagement with photographs of the bodies of
others’ taken in colonial times and now residing in archives and museum collections
in former imperial metropoles. In this context the ‘taking’ of pictures has been read
as being closely allied with techniques of colonial governmentality and forms of
voyeurism intrinsic to the ideological constitution of otherness.45
Much of more current scholarship regarding these collections has focussed
particularly on their ‘emotional aerlife’46 within postcolonial cultures of public
memory in which, along with gatherings of human remains, archives of images
of racial types and imperial brutality become a problematic ‘colonial legacy . . .
felt as dicult, shameful, perhaps unspeakable.47 Given this framing, the value of
photographs is argued to lie precisely in their capacity to elicit a sense of ethical
proximity with the imperial past, thereby countering a tendency towards ‘aphasia’48
or ‘ignorance49 regarding the colonial histories of European nations. For example,
a series of studies have addressed recent attempts to curate memories of colonial-
ism in the Dutch East Indies through the public display of photographs taken at
the time.50 This is a context in which, to quote Paul Bijl, ‘Dutch colonialism and its
violence sometimes appear as forgotten in the Netherlands because the victims of
colonialism are not memorable within a national context and there is no language
available to discuss them as a part of Dutch history.51 Against this culture of for-
getting and denial, displays of ‘colonial photography can be seen as calls upon the
body politic to start more thoroughly addressing the uncomfortable pasts that keep
haunting it.52
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Ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains
Within this discussion, the question of the ethics displaying photographs of the
bodies of the dead and dying is articulated and resolved with reference to what
Elizabeth Edwards describes as the ‘visual ecosystem of the museum53 and how
these ecosystems may be created and curated to realise the potential of museums to
act as ‘agents of change’54 which, to quote Jill Bennett, are ‘able to exploit forms of
embodied perception in order to promote forms of critical enquiry’.55 To an extent,
engaging with the question of the rights and wrongs of displaying photographs in
this register serves to set aside the ethical anxiety with appropriation argued by
Sontag, which centres on the mechanical moment of exposure in which something
is taken, appropriated from the world or, more particularly, from whoever is pho-
tographed. In this sense, there is some dierence between how we think of ethical
questions relating to the display of human remains in the museum and the display
of photographs of the dead bodies. When it comes to the display of human remains,
the issue of appropriation, of the literal and gurative ‘taking’ of human remains, is
central to discussions about the rights and wrongs of the retention and display of
bones. When it comes to photographs of bodies, including and especially the dead,
the question of ‘taking’ is marginal to the consideration of the politics and ethics of
the display of such photographs, with the emphasis being on what photographs do
and how they elicit responses from the audience.
Beyond the context of the museum and gallery there has, however, been some
discussion of the ethics of photographic appropriation. In these contexts, the moral
anxieties engendered by the taking of someones image are resolved by allowing
for the person photographed to exercise some degree of ownership of their own
photographic depiction, as they would of their own bodies or that stu which is
recognised to be rightfully theirs. For example, in considering the ‘ambivalence’ of
ethnographic photographs,Joyce Hammond reects on two sets of photographs that
she took while doing eldwork in Tahiti concerning t¯
ıfaifai, a quilt-like fabric. The
rst are a series of ‘candid close-ups of people expressing heartfelt emotion’, taken
during a ‘formal departure.56 To her mind, they ‘turned out very well in composi-
tion and technique, yet she has ‘never published the pictures, keeping them only
for personal pleasure of enjoying their aesthetics and the memories they evoked
for me.57 She contrasts these images with some photographs she took at a wedding
feast, where the subject, a t¯
ıfaifai maker, agreed to be photographed and arranged
things to her liking: changing her own clothes, insisting that her grand-daughter
also change into some ‘nice clothes’ and posing formally in front of the t¯
Once the photograph was taken, Hammond ‘provided the t¯
ıfaifai-maker a copy’
and ‘carefully recorded her name and that of the granddaughter’.59 The dierence,
of course, is that in the second example a photograph may have been taken, but
it was not stolen. It was taken with permission, and moreover, the people being
photograph arranged themselves in the full anticipation of becoming image. In this
there was, to borrow a concept from Sten Langmann and David Pick, a ‘dignity-
in-process’, by virtue of the fact that the research participants were involved ‘in
the way images are captured, for example, choosing the right angle for an image,
the right time to capture an image and the impression it will give if and when it
is published’.60
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Similar considerations have informed discussions of the ethics of clinical
photography,p articularly in the context of the proliferation of digital technologies.61
As Ian Berle argues, photographs, in their depictive transparency, are of epistemic
value in the clinical context. They have both ‘therapeutic value’,62 in that images are
enrolled into the work of diagnosis and treatment, and ‘non-therapeutic value,63 as
an aid to teaching or as illustrations in lectures and published papers. The prob-
lems, however, are several. There is a concern about ‘an invasion of privacy, and
especially, clinical photography because it reveals particularities that people would
rather keep hidden.64 In this sense, the anxiety is one of ‘exposure’ and the pecu-
liar capacity of photography, as a form of perception, to ‘expose’ the subject to the
gaze of distant and unknown others. There is also a related concern with ‘patient
autonomy’,65 which Berle, quoting Beauchamp and Childress, denes as ‘self-rule
that is free from both controlling inuence by others and from limitations, such
as inadequate understanding, that prevent meaningful choice’.66 If the subject of a
photograph, in this case a hospital patient, is to be exposed to the gaze of others
through the medium of the image as a depictive trace, then they should choose to
do so, in full awareness of the value and purpose of such exposure. As in the case of
the ethnographic photographs discussed by Hammond, the key is informed consent
and ensuring that the subject of the photograph has given their informed consent,
thereby securing some quality of ‘dignity-in-process’ and undoing the potential
violence or violation of appropriation.
The implications of this discussion for the ethics of making and displaying pho-
tographs of human remains are clear: if photographs have a peculiar epistemic value
as a ‘transparent’ medium, a depictive trace, which allows the viewer a sense of inti-
macy and proximity with the subject of the photograph as that other who is within
and beyond the image, then the ethical considerations which pertain to the handling
and display of ‘real’ human remains would extend to the circulation and display of
photographs of human remains. For clinicians the principal way in which these ethi-
cal anxieties are allied is through informed consent, a process by which one secures
the ‘dignity-in-process’ of the subject of the photograph, be it a living person or
the remains of a once living person. With this we return to the question of propri-
etorship and who, in the absence of the possibility of consent by the subject of the
photograph, is authorised to speak on behalf of that subject.
As discussed above, this question of proprietorship is usually resolved with ref-
erence to idioms of kinship. Living people, in other words, may speak for ‘their’
dead and how the remains of their dead may be handled, disposed of or exposed,
including exposed in and through the photographic image. In the case of the
ancient dead, or dead who have no kin as recognised through normative pro-
natalist idioms of kinship, materialised as blood or DNA,67 then more expansive
notions kinship such as ‘cultural aliation’ are deployed to address and, hopefully,
resolve questions concerning the appropriate treatment of human remains. Such
processes of informed consent are complex and sometimes adversarial, in particu-
lar where the recognition of kinship and cultural aliation is bound up with how
we transact the complex legacy of colonial violence and dispossession and contem-
porary claims for recognition and restitution advanced by historically marginalised
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Ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains
indigenous groups. This complexity does not, however, in itself undo the ethical
requirement for informed consent, nor the suggestion that this requirement extends
from the matter of human remains to photographic images of those remains.
The ethics of unsettlement and photographic affect
What we have le out of this formulation, however, is any consideration of the power
of the photograph, in its transparency, in its capacity to solicit an experience of inti-
macy and proximity, to aect or move people. Such a consideration is vital to the
discussion of the ethics of creating and displaying photographs of dead bodies in
general and, in particular, in the art context.
One way to consider the aective capacity, the power, of the photographic image
of human remains is, once again, to extend the guidance pertaining to the public
display of ‘real’ human remains to the display of photographs of human remains.
As discussed above, this guidance is mostly oriented towards the encounter with
human remains not just as informational but as a coming face-to-face with human
mortality. One may think of Glenys Cocker’s memory of seeing the body of the
Beothuk child displayed in a glass case in the old Newfoundland museum. ‘So sad’,
she says, and the sadness seems to be about loss: the annihilation of a lively being
materialised in the spectacle of the part-mummied body; a child haunted by the
‘picture’ of ‘he or she running and playing’ and ‘having a family and parents who
loved it’. There is a potential power to this encounter which requires careful media-
tion, especially when what is materialised is not simply the loss of the life of a child
but, by extension, the extinction of an entire people.
As discussed above, in the archaeological context this is accomplished by screen-
ing the excavation of burial sites from public view and by creating viewing areas
that somebody may choose or reject to enter. Similarly, in the museological context
this is accomplished through signage and directives so that people should expose
themselves to the potentially moving encounter with mortality only knowingly and
by choice. There may, of course, be value in this aective encounter with human
remains. Duncan Sayer, in particular, has argued that ‘the public do not need to
be protected from the ancient dead nor are they afraid of them’68 and that the
encounter with human remains while assisting with an archaeological dig or gaz-
ing on a display of bones in the museum may ‘make an enriching contribution to
modern society, facilitating a relationship with death, the dead and so the dying’.69
So, rather than withdrawing the remains of the dead from public view, we should be
bringing them into visibility, inviting an open, thoughtful, contemplative encounter
with the corpse and, through the corpse, with the fact of human mortality. In con-
sidering displaying a photograph of human remains we may, therefore, decide to
screen it o, to withdraw it, to hem it in with warnings so that people can choose
to see or not to see, but we can also acknowledge that the photograph, as a depic-
tive trace, may also allow for an experiential proximity with death that is, if Sayer is
correct, somewhat lacking in our thanophobic society.
This, however, overlooks the curious ambivalence of the photographic image and
its relationship with its subject. Photographs, as we discussed in reference to Sontag,
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are not simply ways of extending perception or provoking an illusory experience
of intimacy; they are, by the very mechanics of production and reproduction, a
machine of objectication, a technology of dispossession and alienation, a form of
‘so murder’70 as Sontag describes it. In practice we may seek to undo the potential
for violence and (dis)possession that inheres in the relationship between the sub-
ject and the photographic image through routines of informed consent, whereby the
creation, circulation and display of the photograph becomes an extension of the sub-
ject’s agency. Another, possibility, however, is that the very ambivalence described by
Sontag may be excavated and exposed through self-reexive artistic practice which
focusses not on conveying a sense of intimacy with the photographed other but on
provoking this disquieting sense of ambivalence and transgression.
Andy Warhol, for one, understood the power of the photographic image and its
ethical challenges. His training as a commercial illustrator taught him the manipu-
lative nature of advertising and his interest in popular culture, and the aspirational
mind-set of ordinary Americans helped to make him one of the leading gures in
Pop art. But it was a dark side to popular culture that he brought to the fore when
he appropriated press photographs of human tragedies to use in his own work. His
‘Death and Disaster’ series in the 1960s used photographs of car crashes and other
accidents taken from newspaper front pages as a comment on the general public’s
macabre fascination with violent death and the cynical way that such images could
be used to sell newspapers.71
The ubiquity of the types of photographs appropriated by Warhol, many showing
car-crash victims entangled in the mangled metal of the car, was further emphasised
by his use of screen-print as a method for repeating images. As the photograph was
repeated the image became degraded. This degrading added to the intrigue: the
slightly unclear photograph had to be deciphered, making it hard to tell whether
you were seeing a human leg amongst the metal or just another part of the car.
Although the degrading of the photograph veils some of the gorier detail, it also
serves to dehumanise the subject further: man and machine become one, and both
form a pattern on the canvas.
What made the representation of such subject matter particularly ethically chal-
lenging was the photographic medium itself. Had the images been drawn, the medi-
ation of the artist would have somehow made the images less real, the source less well
identied, the slowness of the technique more reverential and sensitive. The screen-
print process, if anything, reiterated the brutality of the original photograph by its
unquestioning and speedy repetition. In this case it is the photograph’s verisimili-
tude, its cold objectiveness as well as its purpose as newspaper entertainment, that
underlines the ethical question.
The photographs further transformation into ‘Art’ increases, therefore, the objec-
tication of the image of death, removing any reference to the actual people
involved. For example, Andres Serrano’s photographs of bodies in the morgue have
the seductive grace of Renaissance paintings. In The Morgue (Knifed to Death II)
the hands reference Michelangelo’s God reaching to Adam in the Sistine Chapel;
The Morgue (Rat Poison Suicide) is reminiscent of a crucixion by Grünewald or
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The morgue pathologist allowed Serrano to photograph the corpses on the con-
dition that they were disguised to preserve their anonymity, and the subject matter
is similar to Warhol’s, showing the aermath of violent death. However, Serrano
crops, constructs and composes, covering with body with cloth or using lighting
to focus attention on a particular detail before photographing and then printing
in large format. There is both honesty and dishonesty here: the photograph is the
means to capture véri, but also to cut out irrelevant information. The photograph
manipulates the viewer: we are seduced by the beauty of the image, then repulsed
and upset when we learn more about the subject. Describing what he had learned
by photographing the bodies in the morgue, Serrano stated: ‘In a way, it’s made me
more at ease with the idea of dying. . . . For me, these are not mere corpses. They are
not inanimate, lifeless objects. There is a sense of life, a spirituality that I get from
them. This is an important point for me. There is life aer death, in a way.72
What we are suggesting, therefore, is an ethics of unsettlement in which pho-
tographs of human remains become the site of the participatory critique of legacies
of epistemological violence and meditations on mortality. Photography is not the
only medium for engaging in such a critique, but, as the example of Warhol’s and
Serrano’s art suggests, the peculiar ambivalence of the photograph as transpar-
ent image which invites an experience of intimacy and even empathy, yet which
confounds this invitation by virtue of its very mechanics of production and the pos-
sibility of innite reproduction to the point of banality, makes it a peculiarly potent
device for the aective disclosure and interrogation of our ways and techniques of
knowing and representation, including those that have centred on the unearthing,
study and display of human remains.
Conclusion: Dead Images
As we said at the beginning of this article, we have been brought together by ‘dead
images’ and an ambition to create and curate an installation which features a life-
sized photograph of a display of some 8,000 skulls, which through the nineteenth
and into the twentieth centuries were collected from all around the world and trans-
ported to the Natural History Museum of Vienna, where they now reside, as part
of a much larger collection of crania, perhaps over 40,000 in all. Although impres-
sive in its size, this collection is not unusual. In cities all over Europe and North
America there are similar collections, amassed during a time when the comparative
study of crania was deemed central to the anthropological project of understanding
the diverse physical forms of humans and, on the basis of that diversity, elaborating
a now discredited analytic of race.
In 2012 Tal created a composite panorama of the skull cabinet, a photograph
roughly thirty metres in length. During the three years before and ve years aer
the image was captured (using the unconventional multi-perspective panorama
method), Tal questioned and invited others to question and discuss the potentials
and implications of exhibiting this photograph. What consolidated his early doubts
into a deliberate and central dilemma was a wooden door in the middle of the long
cabinet in his photograph. Behind this door was the historical photo laboratory
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John Harries et al.
of the anthropology department, established during the Nazi period by the then
head of the department, Josef Wastl. Wastl saw great scientic value in photogra-
phy and used it intensively, adding not only the dark-room and new photographic
equipment but also many thousands of images to the department’s photographic
collection. His avid interest in photographic techniques went hand in hand with his
obsession to increase the department’s expertise and materials of racial research.
He conducted research in various prisoner-of-war camps and on imprisoned Jews
who were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp on the same day that he com-
pleted his investigation. Of course, in addition to photographs and lms, data sheets,
handprints, footprints, hair samples and plaster-cast masks, Wastl obtained osteo-
logical material as well. Skeletons of Jews from Viennese cemeteries as well as skulls
of concentration camp victims were added to the department’s collections during
this time.73
Nowadays, in the digital photography era, the old dark-room is not needed any-
more, and instead the department houses its entire photographic collection in this
room that opens directly from within the skull cabinet. The consolidation of these
two collections – of skulls and of photographs – into one architectural framework
provided Tal with the conceptual framework for considering his artistic process and
interrogating the ethics of making and displaying a panoramic photograph of skulls.
With these two very dicult collections, one inside the other, this is not only a pho-
tograph of a skull cabinet. The panorama depicts the history and dierent methods
of scientic racism and evolutionary anthropology. For Tal, as a photographer, the
production of a life-sized, high-resolution panoramic photograph became not only
the work of fashioning an image but, in this, interrogating the eld of photography
itself, and especially its entanglement with race science. Inherent to the project is,
therefore, a critical reection on photography as a technique of dispossession and
form of violence. As Tal reects when discussing the process of photographing the
display of crania,
It became clear for me that my use of photography in this project could not be taken
for granted, or be excused with technical considerations alone. I needed to address
photography’s legacy, and dene ethical questions for the use of photography in the
context of scientic racial research and collections of human remains.74
This reection on photography’s legacy confronts us with a series of ethical dilem-
mas: does the photograph of row upon row of skulls reproduce the objectication
of the dead? Should such a photography be displayed, given that it is impossible
to secure the permission of the dead or their living ancestors? In the absence of
any possibility of consent, does this making and planned display of such a pho-
tograph do hurt to the feelings of those who still have ancestral remains in this
The exhibition of this photograph is a work in progress. It is scheduled to be
constructed and made public in the summer of 2018. In undertaking this work,
however, we have come to think about the ethical questions raised by the work of
making and displaying an image of row upon row of skulls. If, as we are suggesting,
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Ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains
we can extend our ethical concerns concerning the handling and display of ‘real’
human remains to the making and display of photographs of skulls, then these con-
cerns include a concern with informed consent, dignity-in-process and managing
the audience’s encounter with a potentially powerful and unsettling image.
Our ambition in mounting this display is to extend this interrogation into the
public sphere. This is an ethical project which must allow for concerns about
dignity-in-process and audience sensibilities, yet must also allow for the disclosure
of the ambivalence of the photograph as a peculiar kind of image whose trans-
gressive potential hinges on the tension between intimacy and violence. We, as
anthropologists, archaeologists and artists, are implicated in this work of transgres-
sion and must, in undertaking this work, be mindful of our purpose and conscious
of our undertaking.
To show a picture of a Beothuk child exposed upon a plank of wood or a
panoramic photograph of row upon row of skulls may be powerful. It may move
the viewer. It may oer a sense of intimacy and proximity to a small body that no
number of words could. Or it may impress with its scale and fascinate with the pre-
sentation of this mute skeletal diaspora. But it also implicates us, who discover or
make such images and would choose to present it to the public, as well as any who
view that image, in the long legacy of dispossession and violence which gave rise
to the very possibility of that image and inhere in the circumstances of its mak-
ing, storage and circulation. Such implication is inevitable, indeed central, to the
ethical power of displays of human remains and dead images and their capacity to
unsettle us.
1 Dead Images, one of ve ‘creative co-productions’ which are part of a larger
project, TRACES, which is exploring the potential of ‘transmitting contentious
cultural heritage with the arts’. TRACES is supported by the European Union
H2020-Reective-Society funding scheme (GA 693857). For more information on
TRACES and Dead Images see the website ‘TRACES: transmitting contentious
cultural heritage with the arts’,, accessed 7 December 2016.
2 J. P. Howley, The Beothucks or Red Indians (Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press, 1915), pp. 231–2.
3 See D. Holly, ‘The Beothuk on the Eve of Their Extinction, Arctic Anthropology,
37:1 (2000), 79–95; R. Pastore, ‘The collapse of the Beothuk world, Acadensis
XIX:1 (1989), 52–71; F. Rowe, Extinction: The Beothuks of Newfoundland (Toronto,
McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1977); and H. Horwood, ‘The people who were murdered
for fun, MacLean’s Magazine, 10 October 1959, pp. 27, 36, 38, 40, 42–43.
4 For more on the unearthing of Beothuk remains see I. Marshall, History and
Ethnography of the Beothuk (Montreal, Kingston, McGill-Queen’s Press, 1996),
pp. 398–410; S. Jerkic, ‘Burials and Bones: A Summary of Burial Patterns and
Human Skeletal Research in Newfoundland and Labrador’, Newfoundland and
Labrador Studies, 9:2 (1993), 213–34; and Howley, The Beothucks or Red Indians,
pp. 330–6.
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John Harries et al.
5 The story of the circumstances of the discovery of the child’s burial and the
removal of the body and grave goods to St John’s has been pieced together from
three sources: Howley, The Beothucks or Red Indians, p. 331, Twillingate Sun,
20 November 1886, p. 4, and an article in a local history pamphlet found in the
Robert’s Arm Library: J. Anthony, ‘Samuel Con (1833–1916): Businessman,
Farmer, Ship-builder and Prospector’, in W. Jackman, B. Warr and R. Bragg (eds),
Remembrances of Roberts Arm: A Come Home Year 1995 Commemorative Book
(Corner Brook, Western Star Publishers, 1995), p. 9. For a fuller account of this
story see: J. Harries, ‘A Beothuk Skeleton (not) in a Glass Case: Rumours of Bones
and the Remembrance of an Exterminated People in Newfoundland – the Emotive
Immateriality of Human Remains’, in J. M. Dreyfus and É. Anstett (eds), Human
remains in Society: Curation and Exhibition in the Aermath of genocide and
MASS-violence (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2016).
6 J. P. Howley, ‘Catalogue of the Specimens in the Museum’, 1891 (Provincial Archive
of Newfoundland and Labrador, James Patrick Howley fonds, MG 105), p. 75.
7 For a history of the Newfoundland Museum see: M. Bradshaw, ‘The History of the
Newfoundland Museum: The Past – the Present’, The Trident, 4:1 (1977), 1, 3; and
J. Maunder, ‘Museum Notes – The Newfoundland Museum: Origins and
Development’ (1991),, accessed
7 December 2016. A fuller account of this history is given in Harries, ‘A Beothuk
Skeleton (not) in A Glass Case.
8 Janus, University of Cambridge, Fisher Photograph Collection, ‘Beothuk remains’,
2011%2F2489, accessed 7 December 2016.
9 A. H. Fisher, ‘Beothuk Remains’ (1908) (Cambridge University Library: Royal
Commonwealth Society Collections, Fisher 11/2489).
10 S. H. Parsons, ‘Beothuck Relics’ (before 1908) (Provincial Archive of
Newfoundland and Labrador, William J. Whiteway collection, A 34-158),
3363(0)&KeyValues=KEY_45582, accessed 7 December 2016.
11 Howley, The Beothucks or Red Indians, p. 331.
12 B. Fardy, Demasduit: Native Newfoundlander (St Johns, Nd, Creative Publishers,
1988), p. 13.
13 Alfred Hugh Fisher came to Newfoundland in 1908 as an employee of the ‘visual
instruction committee’ of the Colonial Oce in London. His job was to travel the
extent of the British Empire in order to take photographs that were destined to be
integrated into lectures, illustrated with lantern slides, which served to cultivate an
‘imperial attitude’ in the children of Britain and the British colonies. The project
itself was something of failure and it is unlikely that the photograph of the remains
of the Beothuk child was ever included in a lecture for school children. For more
information on the ambitions of the ‘visual instruction committee’ and Fisher’s
work see H. J. MacKinder, ‘The Teaching of Geography from an Imperial Point of
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Ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains
View, and the Use Which Could and Should Be Made of Visual Instruction’, The
Geographical Teacher, 6:2 (1911), 76–86, and J. R. Ryan, ‘Visualizing Imperial
Geography: Halford Mackinder and the Colonial Oce Visual Instruction
Committee, 1902–11’, Cultural Geographies, 1:2 (1994), 157–76.
14 N. Márquez-Grant and L. Fibiger L. (eds), The Routledge Handbook of
Archaeological Human Remains and Legislation. An International Guide to Laws
and Practice in the Excavation and Treatment of Archaeological Human Remains
(London, Routledge, 2011).
15 Ministry of Justice (MoJ), ‘Application Form for a Licence to Remove Buried
Human Remains (Including Cremated Remains)’ (2012),
government/publications/apply-to-exhume-human-remains, accessed
29 November 2016.
16 See, for example, Museum of London Human Remains Working Group, Policy for
the Care of Human Remains in Museum of London Collections (London: Museum
of London, 2001), www.museumole/
view/1131/289, accessed 29 November 2016.
17 See, for example, BABAO Working-group for Ethics and Practice, British
Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology Code of Ethics (2010),, accessed 29 November
2016, and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Guidance for the
Care of Human Remains in Museums (2005),
DCMS%20Guide.pdf, accessed 29 November 2016.
18 See, for example, World Archaeological Congress (WAC), The Vermillion Accord
on Human Remains (2016),, accessed
29 November 2016.
19 See, for example, BABAO, Code of Ethics; WAC, The Vermillion Accord; and
A. Fletcher, D. Antoine and J. D. Hill (eds), Regarding the Dead: Human Remains
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20 R. Joyce, ‘Academic Freedom and Cultural Heritage’, in C. Fforde, J. Hubert and
P. Turnbull (eds), The Dead and Their Possessions. Repatriation in Principle, policy
and Practice (New York, Routledge, 2002), pp. 99–107.
21 M. M. Brooks and C. Rumsey, ‘The Body in the Museum’, in V. Cassman,
N. Odegaard and J. Powell (eds), Human Remains. Guide for Museums and
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22 See T. Jenkins, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections (New York,
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23 Brooks and Rumsey, ‘The Body in the Museum’.
24 English Heritage, Research into Issues Surrounding Human Bones in Museums
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25 Brooks and Rumsey, ‘The Body in the Museum’, p. 283.
26 E. K. Wilson, ‘The Collection and Exhibition of a Fetal and Child Skeletal Series’,
Museum Anthropology, 38:1 (2015), 15–27.
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30 D. Antoine, ‘Curating Remains in Museum Collections. Broader Considerations
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31 K. L. Walton, ‘Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism’,
Critical Inquiry, 11:2 (1984), 246–77, 250.
32 A. Bazin and H. Gray, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image, Film Quarterly,
13:4 (1960), 4–9.
33 Walton, ‘Transparent Pictures’, 247–9.
34 Ibid., 251.
35 M. Pettersson, ‘Depictive Traces: On the Phenomenology of Photography’, The
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 69:2 (2011), 185–96, 186.
36 S. Sontag, On Photography (New York: Rosetta Books, 2005), p. 71,, accessed 8 December 2017.
37 R. Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reections on Photography, trans. R. Howard (New
York, Hill and Wang, 1981), pp. 80–1.
38 Pettersson, ‘Depictive Traces, 189.
39 Ibid., 191.
40 Ibid., 193.
41 Ibid., 189.
42 Sontag, On Photography, p. 2.
43 See F. Nudelman, ‘Against Photography: Susan Sontag’s Vietnam, Photography and
Culture, 7:1 (2014), 7–20.
44 See P. Landau, ‘Empires of the Visual: Photography and Colonial Administration
in Africa’, in P. Landau and D. Kapsin (eds), Images and Empires: Visuality in
Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (Berkeley and Los Angles, University of California
Press, 2002), pp. 141–71.
45 See A. Maxwell, Colonial Photography and Exhibitions: Representations of the
Native and the Making of European Identities (London, Leicester University Press,
2000), and J. R. Ryan, Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the
British Empire (London, Reaktion Books, 2013).
46 W. Modest, ‘Museums and the Emotional Aerlife of Colonial Photography’, in
E. Edwards and S. Lien (eds), Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of
Photographs (London and New York, Routledge, 2016), pp. 21–42.
47 E. Edwards and M. Mead, ‘Absent Histories and Absent Images: Photographs,
Museums and the Colonial Past, Museum and Society, 11:1 (2013), 19–38, 19.
48 See P Bijl, ‘Colonial Memory and Forgetting in the Netherlands and Indonesia’,
Journal of Genocide Research, 14:3–4 (2012), 441–61, and A. L. Stoler, ‘Colonial
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49 Modest, ‘Museums and the Emotional Aerlife’, pp. 29–30.
50 P. Pattynama, ‘The Story of the Netherlands-Indies: The Use of Photographs in the
Centre of Indies Remembrance, in E. Edwards and S. Lien (eds), Uncertain Images:
Museums and the Work of Photographs (London and New York, Routledge, 2016),
pp. 133–48; P. Bijl, Emerging Memory: Photographs of Colonial Atrocity in Dutch
Cultural Remembrance (Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2015); Modest,
‘Museums and the Emotional Aerlife’.
51 Bijl, ‘Colonial Memory and Forgetting, 458.
52 P. Bijl, ‘Embodying Colonial Photography: Remembering Violence in Tabee Toean’,
Depth of Field, 1:1 (2011),les/1814477/128371_375356.
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53 E. Edwards and S. Lien, ‘Museums and the Work of Photography’, E. Edwards and
S. Lien (eds), Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of Photographs (London
and New York, Routledge, 2016), pp. 3–20, pp. 4–5.
54 E. Stylianou and T. Stylianou-Lambert, ‘Approaches to Displaying the Dead in
Museums’, in E. Stylianou and T. Stylianou-Lambert (eds), Museums and
Photography: Displaying Death (London and New York, Routledge, 2017),
pp. 1–18, pp. 11–13.
55 J. Bennett, Empathic Vision: Aect, Trauma and Contemporary Art (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2005), p. 7, quoted in Stylianou and Stylianou-Lambert,
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56 J. D. Hammond, ‘Photography and Ambivalence’, Visual Studies, 19:2 (2004),
135–45, 135. For a further discussion of the ethics of ethnographic photography
see: S. Perry and J. S. Marion, ‘State of the Ethics in Visual Anthropology’, Visual
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57 Hammond, ‘Photography and Ambivalence, 135.
58 Ibid.
59 Ibid.
60 S. Langmann and D. Pick, ‘Dignity and Ethics in Research Photography’,
International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17:6 (2014), 709–21,
61 See L. Kunde, E. McMeniman and M. Parker, ‘Clinical Photography in
Dermatology: Ethical and Medico-legal Considerations in the Age of Digital and
Smartphone Technology’, Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 54:3 (2013), 192–7,
and R. Van der Rijt and S. Homan, ‘Ethical Considerations of Clinical
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62 I. Berle, ‘Clinical Photography and Patient Rights: The Need for Orthopraxy’,
Journal of Medical Ethics, 34:2 (2008), 89–92, 89.
63 Ibid., 90.
64 Ibid.
65 I. Berle, ‘The Ethical Context of Clinical Photography’, Journal of Audiovisual
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66 T. T. Beauchamp and J. F. Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics (Oxford, Oxford
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67 See D. W. Riggs and E. Peel, Critical Kinship Studies: An Introduction to the Field
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 39–47.
68 D. Sayer, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Dead? Archaeology, Modernity and the Death
Taboo’, World Archaeology, 42:3 (2010), 481–91, 488.
69 Ibid.
70 Sontag, On Photography, p. 1.
71 A. Warhol, Death and Disasters (Houston, TX: Houston Fine Art Press, 1988). For
a discussion of death, mortality and Warhol’s art see: H. Foster, ‘Death in America’,
October, 75 (1996), 37–59.
72 A. Blume and A. Serrano, ‘Andres Serrano’, BOMB, 43 (1993), 36–41.
73 See M. Berner, ‘Race and Physical Anthropology in Interwar Austria’, Focaal, 58
(2010), 16–31, and K. Matiasek, ‘A Mutual Space? Stereo Photography on Viennese
Anthropological Expeditions (1905–45)’, in M. Klemun and U. Spring (eds),
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74 R. Lichtzier, ‘Dead Images // Tal Adler’, The Seen, 3 (2016), 114–19, 115,
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... The necessity to place human remains in their appropriate social and cultural contexts was acknowledged. This opposes the Western illuminist philosophy, which contributed to the objectification of the body based on a dualistic split of the body and mind widely adopted in scientific and medical spheres, ignoring the body as the vessel for religious and social identities and experiences within a community [63]. The concept of seeing a replica as "real bone" may be odd, but it needs to be included in the discussion of building and disseminating 3D models. ...
Full-text available
Advancements in digital technology have conquered a place in cultural heritage. The widespread use of three-dimensional scanners in bioanthropology have increased the production of 3D digital replicas of human bones that are freely distributed online. However, ethical considerations about such 3D models have not reached Portuguese society, making it impossible to assess their societal impact and people’s perception of how these models are created and used. Therefore, Portuguese residents were asked to take part in an online survey. The ratio of male to female participants was 0.5:1 in 312 contributors. The age ranged between 18 and 69 years. The majority had a higher education degree. Only 43% had seen a 3D model, and 43% considered the 3D replicas the same as real bone. Also, 87% would be willing to allow their skeleton and family members to be digitalized after death, and 64% advocated the controlled dissemination of replicas through registration and login and context description association (84%). Overall, the results suggest agreement in disseminating 3D digital replicas of human bones. On a final note, the limited number of participants may be interpreted as a lack of interest in the topic or, more importantly, a low self-assessment of their opinion on the subject.
The Archaeology of Human Bones provides an up to date account of the analysis of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites, introducing students to the anatomy of bones and teeth and the nature of the burial record. Drawing from studies around the world, this book illustrates how the scientific study of human remains can shed light upon important archaeological and historical questions. This new edition reflects the latest developments in scientific techniques and their application to burial archaeology. Current scientific methods are explained, alongside a critical consideration of their strengths and weaknesses. The book has also been thoroughly revised to reflect changes in the ways in which scientific studies of human remains have influenced our understanding of the past, and has been updated to reflect developments in ethical debates that surround the treatment of human remains. There is now a separate chapter devoted to archaeological fieldwork on burial grounds, and the chapters on DNA and ethics have been completely rewritten. This edition of The Archaeology of Human Bones provides not only a more up to date but also a more comprehensive overview of this crucial area of archaeology. Written in a clear style with technical jargon kept to a minimum, it continues to be a key work for archaeology students.
This chapter focuses on the ethical and practical considerations concerning archaeological human remains in the UK. It first contextualises the chapter by including a personal perspective of the author’s experience as a bioarchaeologist over the last 35 years in the UK. It then reflects upon the development of bioarchaeology in the UK, and its value in informing us about our past, and its rise from a “cottage industry” to a thriving area of archaeology. It then considers the guidance available for excavation, analysis, curation, and display of archaeological human remains in the UK, and makes recommendations for the future. These include having more open dialogue amongst all stakeholders, treating human remains with dignity and respect and not objectifying them, educating the public and students alike, especially in the case of destructive analyses, and debating who has the right to decide the “fate” of human remains. It further highlights areas of concern and emphasises the responsibility of all stakeholders to ensure appropriate care for our ancestors’ remains. Bioarchaeologists in particular have a duty to do their best for all human remains that have been, and will be, excavated and analysed in the future, and then curated, right across the world. We also have a duty to engage all stakeholders in debates, including the public and Indigenous people.
People around the world are connected by the touch of a button through the medium of social media. These outward facing platforms have encouraged those working in science, including disciplines with human remains, to share their research with the wider public. However, because technology is rapidly evolving, it is challenging for good practice guidance to keep up. As a result, a number of ethical concerns have been raised resulting from social media’s ubiquity. Such concerns include whether human remains should be shared and displayed online, and all arguments seem to point towards justification and contextualisation. Furthermore, the rapid technological development of other imaging devices, such as three-dimensional documentation, has added to this discussion. This chapter addresses some of these conversations, using recent news media examples, in an attempt to drive forward further conversations. This chapter does not aim to solve the issues discussed, but does recommended guidance for the future.
This chapter examines the role of photography in colonial administration in Africa. It explains that image was the medium for colonialism's representational encounter with Africans. It argues that the idea that Western photographs objectified colonized peoples in Africa is correct and that photographs, like perspectival paintings before them, can just as easily be said to have objectified observers. It contends that the traffic in images under colonial rule served the colonial project in Africa, alongside not only guns and steamships, but radio, newsreels, presses, and carbon paper.
Over recent decades, the ethics, politics and public engagements of mortuary archaeology have received sustained scrutiny, including how we handle, write about and display the archaeological dead. Yet the burgeoning use of digital media to engage different audiences in the archaeology of death and burial have so far escaped attention. This article explores categories and strategies by which digital media create virtual communities engaging with mortuary archaeology. Considering digital public mortuary archaeology (DPMA) as a distinctive theme linking archaeology, mortality and material culture, we discuss blogs, vlogs and Twitter as case studies to illustrate the variety of strategies by which digital media can promote, educate and engage public audiences with archaeological projects and research relating to death and the dead in the human past. The article then explores a selection of key critical concerns regarding how the digital dead are currently portrayed, identifying the need for further investigation and critical reflection on DPMA’s aims, objectives and aspired outcomes.
Discussions of repatriation dominate the topic of human remains in museums. For the large portion of remains that are not subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, however, concerns regarding how to curate, exhibit, and interpret them are paramount, especially when the remains are those of children. The contents of anthropological collections often reflect a shared past that may be uncomfortable to address, but was formative and valuable to the discipline. Understanding the motivations and circumstances that contributed to bringing human remains into museums, as well as the changing uses and interpretations of those remains over time, is an are important aspect of collections care and public engagement. This article examines a skeletal series of fetuses and children at the National Museum of Health and Medicine as a case study for uncovering and conveying to museum visitors the complex histories behind the acquisition, curation, and display of juvenile human remains. [Army Medical Museum, National Museum of Health and Medicine, juvenile human remains, exhibition, visitor studies, museum collecting, history of anthropology]
The aim of this paper is to provide new conceptual and practical insights about the issues associated with ethics and dignity when undertaking research involving the collection of photographic data. Case studies of photographs taken as part of a research project in Chennai, India, are employed to illuminate the significance of dignity. The case studies reveal that dignity-in-context provides a useful conceptual tool that encapsulates the range of ethical issues that might be encountered. This concept has two dimensions. The first, dignity-in-outcome, assists deciding what and whether to photograph by drawing attention to the need for those being researched to benefit from the research, to present an authentic view of the situation and to ensure that participants are not demeaned or reduced. The second is dignity-in-process that helps researchers decide why and how to photograph in terms of involving those being researched in the way an image is captured, choosing the right angle for the image and the impression the image will give if and when it is published.