The Evolution of Vision

The Visual Culture of Early German Ethnographic Films
  • Assenka Oksiloff


Among the early documents of visual anthropology is a film fragment entitled “Bushman Speaking into the Phonograph” (1908).1 Rudolf Pöch, a Viennese medical doctor and anthropologist, took the footage during a research expedition through British Botswana and the German colony of South West Africa. Commissioned by the Royal Academy of Sciences in Vienna to study the last remaining Bushmen of the Kalahari, Pöch sought to employ the most modern means possible for collecting accurate data. In 1909, he returned to Vienna with a wealth of photographic stills as well as sound and film recordings. The Bushman study is one of two surviving fragments of Pöch’s Africa footage, shot two years after his first cinematic experiments in New Guinea. During his travels in Oceania, Pöch decided to order a camera after witnessing Nomumbo performances and regretting that “these beautiful and remarkable dances could not be captured [festgehalten] on film.”2 A famous colleague, Alfred Haddon, who screened his footage of the Torres Straits while Pöch was visiting Cambridge in 1902, had first sparked his interest in film. Like Haddon, Pöch decided to shoot a ritual dance for his initial attempt.


Physical Anthropology Research Film Racial Type Movie Camera Bismarck Archipelago 


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© Assenka Oksiloff 2001

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  • Assenka Oksiloff

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