HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article in two versions – English and Italian – on the visual ethnography of U.S. anthropologist Frank Cancian, who sadly just passed away on November 24, 2020.

Faeta, Francesco, 2020. “‘I never left Lacedonia’. The 1950s Italian Mezzogiorno in Frank Cancian’s Visual Ethnography,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Faeta, Francesco, 2020. “«I never left Lacedonia». Il Mezzogiorno italiano degli anni Cinquanta nell’etnografia visuale di Frank Cancian,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

When the iconic U.S. visual anthropologist Frank Cancian – who died on November 24, 2020 – was a 23-year old, he did path-breaking fieldwork in Southern Italy, the Mezzogiorno. In the late 1950s, this region was in the forefront of community studies, but social scientists were divided between a commitment for knowledge, reformist and ideological perspectives, or simply the aspiration to describe a supposedly archaic world that was finally embracing “modernity.” While some shed a gloomy light on the supposed lack of agency of the Mezzogiorno peasants, Frank Cancian conducted his systematic photographic survey in the village of Lacedonia with utmost respect for the inhabitants and attention to their daily community social life. Away from ideological prejudice, he showed a desire for visual experimentation within a frame of reciprocity. In this illustrated article, which was written in dialogue with Cancian and now pays tribute to his legacy, Francesco Faeta claims that no anthropologist who studied the South of Italy during those years has left us with a more vivid and complete photographic portrait of its communities. Cancian experienced the desire to understand the dark side of the observed society, manifest through emigration, unemployment, social disparity, mistrust, disenchantment, and an ambiguous relationship with looming modernity. Faeta gives the reader an in-depth historical, theoretical, and methodological account of the issues at stake in Cancian’s visual ethnography and Italian studies of the post-war period. Fifty years later, in 2017, Frank Cancian bequeathed 1,801 photographs and his field notebooks to the community of Lacedonia, so passing on an invaluable testimony which is displayed in a photographic exhibition curated by Francesco Faeta, held in Rome at the Museo delle Civiltà (Museum of Civilizations) until January 2021.

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