Book Review: Faces Of Papua New Guinea

Faces Of Papua New Guinea, photographs by Phil Burnbaum, text by Andrew J. Strathern

It is hard to know what to make of a book like this. To be sure, this book includes more than 150 pages of photographs, most of them of various natives of Papua New Guinea dressed in their clothing and ornaments and large amounts of makeup and body paint, engaged in festivals or just ordinary activities. To be sure, many of the photos are striking, but they appear to be taken to encourage a feeling of exoticism, and I must admit that I do not tend to find the photography all that personally attractive. There is certainly value in recognizing how other people live, but the traditions of the people of Papua New Guinea regarding clothing and wearing boar tusks and painting and scarring their bodies is not something I personally find all that interesting as a reader. Perhaps there are others who will enjoy this more than I do, but I have to admit that I was disappointed at the approach that this book took. Still, there is definitely a market for this sort of work even if the nature of the book didn’t exactly strike my own personal interest.

Those who are more harsh readers than I am of this book may wonder about the exploitative nature of this particular photography. One of the things that this book does poorly is presenting the context of the photography. When one looks at alien cultures whose ways are very different, it is hard to do justice to what the people in the photographs are doing. There are traditions of madmen and other traditions and taboos within the culture. And there are so many distinct cultures in the country that it is again hard to do justice, considering that most of the photos appear to be focused on the mainland traditions rather than the smaller islands. Given my lack of knowledge of Papua New Guinea I cannot bring context to these photos, but I wish that the authors would have done so.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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