Richard Chalfen, PhD
Senior Scientist

Dick has many publications in the fields of anthropology, sociology and communication. His main research interests include visual anthropology and the use and meaning of home media – family snapshots, family albums, home movies and videos -- in both domestic and international contexts.

Dick was born in Cambridge, MA and attended Browne and Nichols School until 1960. He came from a medical family: his father practiced medicine in Cambridge for over 60 years, mostly general practice and pediatrics; and his brother became a physician, specializing in internal medicine, and recently retired after eleven years as Commissioner of Health also in Cambridge. Dick then moved to Philadelphia to earn a BA degree in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Anthropology and thinking a lot about ethnographic cinematography. But, in preparation for what seemed like a predetermined career, Dick was also pre-med. After more than a few applications, he was admitted to Tufts University Medical School - just coincidentally the same medical school that graduated his father and brother. But things did not feel quite right, and with a keen interest in Mexican cultures, meso-American archaeology, and film, he traveled south to New Orleans to enter the graduate school in Anthropology at Tulane University. There he began formal training in still photography, which he maintains today. After transferring back to Philadelphia and the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, he studied documentary filmmaking and produced a short anti-war documentary entitled, For Ages 10 to Adult. This film was subsequently purchased by the American Friends Service Committee for use with Conscientious Objectors. He also learned the basics of television production and was fortunate to study graphic arts with Sam Maitin, specializing in photo-serigraphy. This developed into a freelance poster business (Charlie Finn Productions) where he specialized in community theater posters. But studying about how people made visual representations became much more interesting and intellectually challenging than actually making images.

In the summer of 1966, as a graduate research assistant, Dick moved to Pine Springs, Arizona with Sol Worth (Univ. of Pennsylvania) and John Adair (San Francisco State University) to undertake the National Science Foundation-sponsored Navajo Film Themselves Project. Later, in 1997, Dick co-authored a revision of the original 1972 book, Through Navajo Eyes - An Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology (University of New Mexico).

After earning an MA in Communication in 1967, Dick spent two years on the Language and Literature faculty at Drexel University, and simultaneously invented a research position at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic associated with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. While there, he had the exceptionally good fortune to work with family therapists Jay Haley and Salvador Minuchin as they developed "socio-documentary filmmaking" projects for work with urban Philadelphia teenagers. These National Institute of Mental Health-funded projects, which combined ethnographic research and indigenous film communication, paralleled the Navajo Project in objectives and methodology and prepared Dick for dissertation work. With generous intellectual stimulation and support by Sol Worth, Dell Hymes, Ray Birdwhistell, and Larry Gross, a Ph.D. was awarded in 1974.

Foregoing a chance to stay at Annenberg, in 1972, he moved to North Philadelphia to join the Temple faculty as an instructor in Anthropology. His primary charge was to develop a series of visual anthropology courses for an emerging program in culture and communication. In 1981, with the help of a training fellowship from the National Science Foundation, Dick went back to school, studying film production with Carroll and Joan Williams at the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After two film schools, he reached a significant conclusion: he did not have a future career in film production. But film was not totally out of the picture, so to speak. Simultaneously, Dick continued to investigate rather unorthodox inter-relationships of cultural and linguistic anthropology with filmmaking and visual communication. His research interests and opportunities focused on comparisons of film expression and indigenous communication. Two points became clear: One did not need to travel 3000 miles to the American Southwest for relevant research topics; nor did one need to teach members of different societies to use cameras. People from all parts of the country and, indeed, the world were already making many pictures of their own lives. This led Dick to examine personal picture collections as indigenous expression. His first paper in this area was written in 1970 for Erving Goffman and centered on the framing of reality in "home movies." This, in turn, led to the development of a sub-field of media studies and a specialization in home media, exploring cross-cultural dimensions of personal photography. His first book, Snapshot Versions of Life (Popular Press: Bowling Green Ohio, 1987), was followed by Turning Leaves: the Photograph Collections of Two Japanese American Families (the University of New Mexico, 1997). He is currently completing a monograph on Japanese home media. Some of his articles have been translated and published in Italian, Hungarian, and German and soon Japanese.

Dick served as Chairman of the Anthropology Department, 1978-1981, and directed the Graduate Program in Visual Anthropology between 1982 and 1993. Since 1989, he has been Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University. Dick currently directs the Undergraduate Major in the Anthropology of Visual Communication at Temple University. The opportunity to teach and study at Temple's Tokyo campus was offered in 1993. Here Dick began a program of fieldwork on Japanese personal photography, developed a series of new courses for Main Campus, and published a series of papers from that work.

Since returning to Philadelphia in 1995, Dick has been appointed to membership on the Asian Studies Faculty and the American Studies Faculty Council at Temple, and is on the Steering Committee of a new cross-college interdisciplinary program, American Studies and Media Arts. Dick has also been active in consulting, working at times with AT&T, Eastman Kodak, the Polaroid Corporation, and related image-concerned companies. And, most recently, Dick was appointed the William Valentine Cole Visiting Professor of Sociology/Anthropology at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. There, he has been offering a Senior Seminar in Indigenous Media, a course that spans much of his past 35 years of work, culminating in the applied dimensions suggested by the VIA research at Children's Hospital in Boston. In recent years, Dick has been completing a 40 year-sequence of events and activities that has helped him come full circle -- from teaching teenagers to make 16mm films about themselves at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic to now studying the video-diaries made by patients at Children's Hospital in Boston. This work is book-ended by an integration in medicine, visual anthropology, and video communication. Current preoccupations include working the financial and real estate markets, studying Japanese, photography, sailing, and, valued more each year, Club Med tourism.

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