1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

J. David Sapir

Professor, Emeritus

Ph.D. Harvard University 1964

P.O. Box 400120


West African languages, folklore and culture. My initial field work was with the language and folklore of the Kujamaat Jóola of Southern Sénégal. Subsequent field work investigated their social organization and social symbolism. Language, folklore and social symbolism center on symbolism in general and inform my broader theoretical interests, the central place of symbolism in human thought. I am slowly posting on the web language and folklore materials from the Kujamaat: http://people.virginia.edu/~ds8s/Kujamaat-Joola/

Still Photography. My use of still photography dates from my days in high school. I have practiced it at irregular intervals over the years and in one concentrated period during my African field work. At that time I thought of photography as very separate from the pursuit of ethnography, and I made no attempt to integrate it with my studies of Kujamaat language, folklore and social symbolism. Recently I have begun to consider the nature of still photography as a unique form of communication and thence its value for ethnography. Visual anthropology in its current form is primarily, if not exclusively, involved with film and video. Can there be an "ethnophotography," based on still photography? An investigation of this possibility takes me into the history of photography from its introduction in 1839 and to a study of the grand tradition of what is called "documentary photography." To what extent is documentary photography enthographic? If it is, how is it to be used, and how are documentary photographs to be read?

My home page, "Fixing Shadows" is devoted to still photography. You will find there the work of the late Marion Post Wolcott (FSA photographer) and Nell Dorr; David Plowden of Chicago; Peter Marshall, Carol Hudson, and Paul Baldesare of London; Michael Carlebach of Florida; Richard Robinson and Bill Emory of Charlottesville; David Newman, Julia Sapir, and Julia M. Dawson of Texas; Jack Welpott, Bill Mattick, John Spence Weir and Ihtisham Kabir of the Bay Area. Also, recent additions are the photography historian, Sally Stein who observes the culture of the cell phone and Frank Cancian, an old hand in Mayan ethnography gives us, in digital form, his Another Place, a set of photos from the world of Chiapas. Take a look.


West African language, lexicography, translation, folklore and symbolism; the nature of symbolism; the history and practice of still photography.


Charles R. Kaut
Professor, Emeritus
Susan McKinnon
Professor, Emerita
Peter Metcalf
Professor, Emeritus
Marion Ross
Lecturer, Emerita
J. David Sapir
Professor, Emeritus
H. L. Seneviratne
Professor, Emeritus