Agitating Images: Photography against History in Indigenous Siberia (First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies)
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Following the socialist revolution, a colossal shift in everyday realities began in the 1920s and ’30s in the former Russian empire. Faced with the Siberian North, a vast territory considered culturally and technologically backward by the revolutionary government, the Soviets confidently undertook the project of reshaping the ordinary lives of the indigenous peoples in order to fold them into the Soviet state. In Agitating Images, Craig Campbell draws a rich and unsettling cultural portrait of the encounter between indigenous Siberians and Russian communists and reveals how photographs from this period complicate our understanding of this history.
Agitating Images provides a glimpse into the first moments of cultural engineering in remote areas of Soviet Siberia. The territories were perceived by outsiders to be on the margins of civilization, replete with shamanic rituals and inhabited by exiles, criminals, and “primitive” indigenous peoples. The Soviets hoped to permanently transform the mythologized landscape by establishing socialist utopian developments designed to incorporate minority cultures into the communist state. This book delves deep into photographic archives from these Soviet programs, but rather than using the photographs to complement an official history, Campbell presents them as anti-illustrations, or intrusions, that confound simple narratives of Soviet bureaucracy and power. Meant to agitate, these images offer critiques that cannot be explained in text alone and, in turn, put into question the nature of photographs as historical artifacts.
An innovative approach to challenging historical interpretation, Agitating Images demonstrates how photographs go against accepted premises of Soviet Siberia. All photographs, Campbell argues, communicate in unique ways that present new and even contrary possibilities to the text they illustrate. Ultimately, Agitating Images dissects our very understanding of the production of historical knowledge.
produced by close textual and ethnographic readings and the implicit « 20 » The Years Are Like Centuries resistance of photographs to the taxonomies we “discover.” Peter Burke describes the task of the historian vis-à-vis photography in his work Eyewitnessing: The historian needs to read between the lines, noting the small but significant details—including significant absences—and using them as clues to information which the imagemakers did not know they knew, or to assumptions they were not
cultural shaping and grooming. In his book Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott describes high modernism as a faith-based techno-bureaucratic form that drew legitimacy from science: high modernism “was accordingly, uncritical, unskeptical, and thus unscientifically optimistic about the possibilities for the comprehensive planning of human The Years Are Like Centuries « 53 » settlement and production.”87 The great irony is that the arrogance of that era’s rhetoric was presented precisely as
superstition of the backward and illiterate population, [told people not to send] their children to boarding schools.177 Unlike Orthodox Christianity, there was no centralized and bureaucratized hierarchy of power to target. Shamans were often virtually indistinguishable from other Evenkis (at least to the Russians). Indeed, the categorization of shamans according to their work178 required a much greater degree of scrutiny—one that was ultimately provided by I. M. Suslov with his work Shamanism
in the historical literature. The reason they have not been recognized and studied as critical moments in the northern cultural revolution might include the fact that they were by and large ephemeral; they were a staging process and may be seen as only a bureaucratic detail. Within ten The Years Are Like Centuries « 139 » years most Culture Bases had become villages, towns, and administrative centers. The entire project of sovietization of remote areas of the North is the principal story, but
above all, Russian culture.”310 The fear of Russian chauvinism was noted by Lenin, who argued that Soviet internationalism needed to actively avoid a noted conservative tendency to privilege Russian culture. After Lenin’s death, however, this began to change. “Though it was still claimed that all nationalities were treated equally, by the late 1930s, reference to the ‘leading role’ of the Russian people in Soviet society had become common.”311 The rise of Russian chauvinism in the 1930s, while