Marilyn Strathern (University of Cambridge)
Recent experience of 'repatriating' ethnographic photographs to acquaintances in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea, leads to some questions about the recognition of character. People acknowledge characteristic ways of being or behaving, but it is not at all clear that these are simply attached to individual persons. To what entity or element of action, then, might such characteristics be attached, and what are the ethical repercussions? There seems something of a parallel between the way English-speakers bundle together the elements of someone's character and how they might compose a portrait. Indeed to the various senses of 'character' as a summation or specification of qualities, intrinsic nature, or customary habit one might add the work it does in painting a 'portrait'. A completely unlooked-for response on the part of a Hagen friend to my proposal to seek out people in order to give them photographs of themselves (and close kin), some of which I had thought of as portraits, forced me to think afresh about what it means to have pictures of persons.