Edges of Empire

KNW 2399: Edges of Empire

Before and After


“Ruined Temple of Ambernath near Callian” by William Johnson (ca. 1855-1862)

“Rancheria en Tierra Caliente” by Abel Briquet (ca. 1875-1899)

Surely when Abel Briquet stumbled upon the village in Rancheria en Tierra Caliente, he must have felt as if he was stepping back in time. The villagers gazing back must have wondered what business he had in such a remote location. Such a juxtaposition of technology and tradition gives the image its value. In it, the horizon is not visible but lies beneath the thick foliage, conveying the isolation that is necessary for such a scene. The main focus is the large, straw hut which possibly served as a communal hub. Women and children are littered throughout the scene; some aware the photo was being taken, some oblivious to the fact. Strung up clothes are a further reminder of the simpler times that were captured here. It beckons the viewer to question why, in the presence of modern technology, do these people choose to remain living where and how they do? Perhaps this is what Briquet sought when he took the photo; to see those people caught in between times. This tells us that whatever their reasons for staying, the viewer can deduce that they must be genuine.

The questions evoked from Rancheria en Tierra Caliente are answered in William Johnson’s Ruined Temple of Ambernath near Callian. In it, the indigenous people that once inhabited this strikingly detailed temple have been cast out. By who or what is unclear through the photograph, but the presence of a camera tells us that the danger has passed. Similarly to the previous photo, the horizon cannot be seen, evoking the same claustrophobic feelings. The main focus is, of course, the temple. It emanates fairytale-like dilapidated beauty, reminding us all that mother earth wins out in the end. Two people occupy the front steps of temple, indicating that its discovery was a triumph of pure exploration. While the inhabitants of Rancheria en Tierra Caliente symbolize those trapped in between times, the abandoned temple in Ruined Temple of Ambernath shows us the common outcome of colonized people. Whatever their reasons for leaving, we know that it is no longer their home in any sense of the word. Perhaps it would only be a matter of time before the villagers in Rancheria shared the same fate. In this way, the two photos could be seen as a “before” and “after” photo of the effects of colonialism, as well as a testament to its universality.

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