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19 July 2015

Martin Gusinde, The Spirit of the Tierra Del Fuego People, Rencontres d’Arles 2015

Between 1918 and 1924, over four journeys, the German missionary Martin Gusinde became the only anthropologist capable of conducting an in‐depth study of the Selk’nam, Yamana, and Kawésqar societies, which were by then already considerably diminished.

Within the framework of a ‘safeguarding’ ethnography characteristic of its era, Martin Gusinde used a methodology of observation that relied heavily on photography. The 1,200 photographs he brought back with him constitute a unique testimonial. What might have remained simply a classic example of an ethnographic missionary’s journey emerges today as an unprecedented experience in the field. Gusinde was deeply immersed within these societies, to the point of being introduced to the hain initiation rite.

His isolation on the other side of the world and intense involvement in the field lend a great singularity to his approach. It also bears witness to the privileged relationship he was able to establish with these peoples. Portraits constitute the vast majority of these images and bodies are the most common subjects, in their most extraordinary expressions, which are those of the spirits and of the actors of the initiation rites.

The material collated by Gusinde is both considerable and elliptic. Much of the data remains partial and many of the keys to understanding these societies remain little known. While these pictures reveal a world that remains largely inaccessible, they enable us to catch a glimpse of the legendary and rich diversity of societies that had until then barely been considered worthy of attention.

In his publications, Gusinde only reproduced a small proportion of his photographs. They are presented here in a broader selection, in order to shed new light on the ways in which the anthropologist wished to show these populations, but also on the manner in which these individuals accepted the tacit agreement of this representation.

Christine Barthe and Xavier Barral

 

Exhibition curators: Christine Barthe and Xavier Barral.
Exhibition produced by the éditions Xavier Barral, in collaboration with the Anthropos Institute,
Sankt Augustin (Germany), the depository of this collection.
Publication: L’Esprit des hommes de la Terre de Feu, éditions Xavier Barral, 2015; The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego, Thames & Hudson, 2015.
Carbon pigment piezographic prints by Guillaume Geneste and Guillaume fleureau, La Chambre Noire, Paris.
Framing by Circad, Paris.
Exhibition venue: Cloître Saint-Trophime.