(Cambridge, MA) In June 1951, Raytheon founder Laurence Marshall and his family left Cambridge, Massachusetts to spend over a decade documenting hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari during a series of expeditions sponsored by Harvard’s Peabody Museum. The family’s photos of the Ju/’hoansi and /Gwi peoples—once known pejoratively as the “Bushmen” —heralded a transformation in the ways these Indigenous people had been represented through history.
The Marshalls' experience became a groundbreaking photographic experiment and one of the most important ventures in the anthropology of Africa. Previously, the Ju/’hoansi, also known as the !Kung, had been depicted as primitive, romantic, or exotic, but the Marshall family’s 40,000 still images showed the men, women, and children at work and play, revealing both their culture and humanity.
“The Marshalls were not the first to do this work, but they were the best,” says Peabody Museum Curator of Visual Anthropology Ilisa Barbash. “They planned a pure study that could be used then and in the future. And this is amazing—they learned on the fly. None of them had formal training in film or anthropology.” Barbash, exhibition curator and author of Where the Roads All End: Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari (Peabody Museum Press, 2016), adds, “Fortunately Laurence Marshall was such a good organizer that he was able to keep his family alive in the desert, by calculating how much water was needed, and figuring out where to leave gas cans in the Kalahari.”
“The Marshall family’s body of work is relevant today,” says Peabody Museum director Jeffrey Quilter. “As museums strive to represent Indigenous peoples in an authentic way, it’s important to acknowledge how the Ju/’hoansi and the /Gwi have been represented over time, and how their cultures have changed.”
Kalahari Perspectives: Anthropology, Photography, and the Marshall Family opens September 29, 2018 at Harvard’s University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and will remain on view through March 31, 2019. The exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of Documentary Educational Resources, the Watertown-based film company co-founded by Laurence Marshall’s son John, and is one of many Harvard-based events celebrating the anniversary. On October 11, a companion film screening and panel discussion of N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman, will feature Barbash, Ross McElwee, Michael Ambrosino, Sue Marshall Cabezas, and moderator Alice Apley. N!ai is a documentary about a woman who was a young girl when the Marshall family expeditions began. The film is by John Marshall, who filmed and took many photographs during the expeditions.
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