An anthropologist and scholar of visual culture and photography, Christopher Pinney’s research has a strong focus on central India. He has also studied popular photographic practices, industrialism and modernity, commercial print cultures and contemporary Hinduism through employing methodologies that combine contemporary ethnography with archaeology, material culture, and visual anthropology.
Pinney received his PhD in Social Anthropology from London School of Economics in 1987. Through his work, he has highlighted that image-making in India was impacted by colonial motivations and moral instruction. Pinney further argues for the adoption of an “ethnosociological” and phenomenological approach towards viewing Indian art rather than borrowing conventions of European aesthetics.
Notable among his research is his work on archival photography, which investigated the relationship between image-making and early anthropological practices. He also researched popular photography, culminating in his book Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs (1997), which investigates photographic portraiture in India. He also studied popular Hindu chromolithographs and their archives, publishing his work as Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (2004). The book presents a history of the printed image in India through centralising religious images used in private spaces. He also studied the history of Studio Suhag with its proprietor Suresh Punjabi towards research for his book Photography and Anthropology (2011), in which he examined the relationship between anthropology and photography from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. In his book The Coming of Photography in India (2008), he explored the relationship between print and photography. His work has appeared in several publications, including BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, Visual Anthropology Review, Religion and Society, Thesis Eleven, Public Culture and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Pinney was Visiting Crowee Professor in Art History at Northwestern University, Illinois, from 2007–09. He has also given lectures at Ohio State University; University of Chicago; New York University; Harvard University, Massachusetts; School of Oriental and African Studies, London, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and the English and Foreign Languages University, Secunderabad, among others. In 2013, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2020.
As of writing, Pinney is professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London.
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