"The Camera Cannot Lie": Photography and the Pacific Non-Fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson (1888-1894)
South Pacific, Photography , Robert Louis Stevenson
This archivally-based dissertation re-contextualizes Robert Louis Stevenson’s South Pacific photographic collection (1888-1894), situating it in relation to his incomplete and posthumously published anthropological study of the Pacific, In the South Seas (1896); his unpublished pamphlet about Samoan colonial conflict, “A Samoan Scrapbook”; and his wife Fanny Stevenson’s diary The Cruise of the ‘Janet Nichol.’ Despite the recent and ample scholarship on Stevenson, few critics have engaged significantly with his photography. These (usually) anonymous photographs, taken by different members of the Stevenson family, were intended as illustrations for a projected book entitled The South Seas. Although this literary project was never completed, a dense photographic archive remains and discloses the many functions of photography during Stevenson’s Pacific career. In this truly interdisciplinary dissertation, I recognize the interdependent relationship between Stevenson’s Pacific non-fiction and his family’s photographic practice and stress that the photographic project was more important to Stevenson’s Pacific writing than has been acknowledged previously. This dissertation addresses the relationship between Stevenson’s photography and non-fiction writing, and demonstrates the important and underlying ways in which Stevenson’s photographs are related to his written accounts of Pacific Islanders and their societies. Furthermore, I contribute a series of close readings of individual (and previously unpublished) photographs, which I contextualize in their appropriate literary, cultural, and historical milieu. This dissertation contributes to a limited body of work that addresses the intersections of Pacific photography, anthropology, and Stevenson’s non-fiction.