Working Paper 194

Photoshopped Ancestors

Gábor Vargyas

Department 'Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia'

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 194

On the basis of a case study among the Bru of the Central Vietnamese Highlands, I examine how the recent introduction of Photoshop-manipulated photographs into the Bru ancestor cult fits with their traditional religious conceptions about pollution and oblivion. I propose three possible explanations for the entrance of these photographs into Bru culture: culture change, mimicry, and syncretism. Based on this, I raise the question of how to interpret the effects of photographs on the Bru: what do they mean or express in terms of identification with and integration and assimilation into Vietnamese society? After discussing some instances of general photo use among the resettled Bru of Ðắk Lắk, I present a case study on how the photos taken from the identity cards of a deceased man and his widow were transformed into a manipulated Bru ancestor photo in a Vietnamese-run photography shop. At the end of my paper I rephrase the question of photo manipulation in a wider context – that of the relationship between subjects and objects, i.e. human persons and the material world.

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