Wolbert, Barbara. 2001. The Visual Production of Locality

Wolbert, Barbara. 2001. The Visual Production of Locality: Turkish Family Pictures, Migration and the Creation of Virtual Neighborhood. Visual Anthropology Review, 17(1):21-35.

Looking at the photographs of the migrant Costum family (of Turkish origin) from the 70s, Wolbert follows Appadurai in suggesting that photographs contain “local knowledge.” Photographs taken by Ilyas (the first migrant to Germany in the Costum family) as a “sign of life” avoided any sign of his integration into German society. The photographs merely reflected his relocalization as an absent family member in his home country (32). Using the term “cult of unity” (Bourdieu), Wolbert suggests that the act of photographing “ritualizes the social unit” by producing coherence among family members. In the family photo archive, the author identifies a photograph, with which Ilyas’ performance in front of the camera for his visual correspondence suddenly changes. The photo shows him holding a bouquet of flowers, and marks the end of a period in his life in Germany. The photo was taken by Ilyas’ wife, who awaits to be given the flowers, and indicates that “there is family life in Germany” (31). Wolbert follows further the development of image-making in the Costum family. One of Ilyas’ sons has become a videographer for Turkish marriage and circumcision ceremonies held in Germany. With the showing of these videos to family members back in Turkey, Wolbert observes that the guest list expands virtually. Like the original guests, the audience in Turkey celebrates the party, only in a different location. The author finds this transition from photo to video as indicative of the emergence of a community of “transmigrants” (following Glick Schiller, Basch, and Szanton Blanc). Going back to Bourdieu, the author argues that through this “cult of unity” the migrant workers’ struggle to produce locality is made evident, while the humiliating side of migration remains hidden.


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