Timothy Asch, a professor of anthropology and celebrated ethnographic
filmmaker whose films have been screened in classrooms around the world,
died of cancer Oct. 3 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 62.
Asch, who was director of USC’s Center for Visual Anthropology, served
as an apprentice to photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward
Weston in the early 1950s. His interest in the use of visual media for
instruction was first sparked when he worked as an assistant to
anthropologist Margaret Mead.
During nearly four decades of work, Asch collaborated with
anthropologists to produce more than 70 films that document cultures and
explore issues of cultural change, empowerment and identity in North and
South America, Africa and Indonesia.
His work with enthnographer Napoleon Chagnon in 1968 and 1971 produced
his most famous ethnographic collection, the Yanomamo films.
Asch began his career in ethnographic film in 1959, editing
anthropologist John Marshall’s South African films at Harvard
University’s Peabody Museum. During the 1960s, he documented the
educational experiments that led to the first anthropology curriculum
for elementary schools, “Man: A Course of Study.”
Beginning in 1975, he worked in partnership with his wife, Patsy, to
collaborate with anthropologists in Afghanistan and Indonesia, creating
a body of ethnographic films widely used for education and research.
Asch’s many films include One Day of Many: Mabou Mines of Cape Breton
Island; A Morning Among the Family Herds: The Dodoth of Kenya; from the
Yanomamo films: Climbing the Peach Palm, A Man and His Wife Weave a
Hammock, Ax Fight, Tapir Distribution and New Tribes Mission; from the
Indonesian films: Spear and Sword, Water of Words, Balinese Trance
Seance, Jero on Jero and his last work, A Celebration of Origins.
His films have won numerous international awards, including the Grand
Prix du Bilan, awarded by the Comite du film ethnographique at the Musee
de l’Homme in Paris. Retrospectives of his films have been featured
throughout the world, including, most recently, at the Dritte Welt Film
Forum, in Freiburg, Germany, and the Margaret Mead Festival, in New
Asch joined USC’s faculty in 1982. In 1983, he became director of the
Center for Visual Anthropology. He also served as director of USC’s
International Anthropological Archive.
Prior to joining USC, he taught at Harvard University, Brandeis
University and Hampton College.
A native of Southampton, N.Y., Asch earned his B.S. in anthropology from
Columbia University in 1959 and his M.A. in anthropology from Boston
University in 1964.
[Photo:] Timothy Asch
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