Annotation: Buckley, William. 2005. Objects of Love and Decay

Buckley, William. 2005. Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive. Cultural Anthropology, 20(2):249-270.

The photographs being discussed in the article are the 2,600 images from the National Archives of the Gambia in West Africa usually described according to “narratives of decay” (251). This decay, as Buckley writes, is central to the archiving activity and signals the nation’s transformation into a modern one. Buckley writes that archival encounters simultaneously resemble a form of colonial nostalgia (256). Buckley refers to postcolonial relationship with the archives as a “lovers discourse,” in which the love for an object is accompanied by the fear of its eventual loss, which then leads to salvaging (257). The author suggests ways of letting go, and writes that, “The decay of the nation’s archived photographs happens outside of any actual archive, in the homes of citizens who claim the right to foster, preserve, and waste the life of a set of photographs” (266). As the author argues, rather than falling into the trap of blaming the state of loss and decay of the archives to postcolonial government, it might be useful to look at decay as well as the right to allow for decay, as central to the cultural practice of archiving. This practice, for Buckley, would require a new kind of interpretation of the photos from the past during the post-colonial period. For, instance, posthumous bequests remains a major challenge for the archival project, because first, caring for the objects of the deceased is seen as as a private affair and not a civic duty. Second, the state is not seen to assume an anthropomorphic form, and thus to enter into a gifting and reciprocal relationship with the state is seen as alien, if not difficult.

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