A significant part of the project involves consideration of the visual representation and framing of penal heritage in French Guiana and New Caledonia. While we are relying on the use of photography to document the presentation of different sites and types of sites, there is the danger that photographs reproduce an aesthetics of display rather than providing an alternative critical frame.
Photographs intended to document a site objectively (despite any claim to objectivity being void) risk becoming sterile on later examination. A single image might also become too important or an attempt at producing an exhaustive set of images can end up producing an overwhelming and unmanageable plethora of images.
To off-set some of these challenges, I have started to incorporate sketches alongside my fieldnotes. The ability to draw well or at all does not seem a prerequisite amongst anthropologists which gives me a certain sense of encouragement. Most of my sketches are little more than line drawings, cartoons or doodles sometimes with some colour added depending on what is in my pencil case. Although the pen like the camera is a prosthetic device, there are nevertheless some fairly key and obvious reasons why sketching can be a useful embodied experience alongside photography.
- There is a tendency to focus on the capturing of objects and their labels in a museum or gallery. If it is unlikely I will get the chance to visit again, this becomes further intensified and I feel under enormous pressure to capture everything in as systematic way as possible. Although this has often proved self-defeating and physically exhausting, experience has also taught me that the things that turn out to be of greatest interest are not necessarily the ones I expected. To take some time out from this often tedious practice of capturing to draw a sketch can be quite useful and provide a necessary physical rest and chance to start reflecting.
- In small prison museums and exhibitions, I quite enjoy sketching out a plan of the space. Photographs don’t always do a great job of expressing layouts. A sketch can act as an aide-mémoire at the same time as obliging me to note carefully where everything is. Although written notes are probably most helpful in describing how narratives are presented across a sites, a layout sketch can also emphasize important juxtapositions between objects and other displays. So far I’ve tended to draw layout free hand with limited success. Most recently, these include a plan of the layout of the permanent exhibition on the bagnes at Fort Balaguier.
- I am also keen to learn what these might flag up retrospectively about my own selection and framing of different carceral spaces and heritage as well as my labeling techniques and how these might evolve throughout the project. SF.