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Timothy Asch; USC Anthropologist, Filmmaker


Timothy Asch, an anthropologist whose exotic yet scientific documentary films have been seen in classrooms around the world, is dead.

A spokeswoman for USC, where he was director of the Center for Visual Anthropology, said Asch was 62.

He died Monday at his Los Angeles home of cancer.

Asch had served his photographic apprenticeship with such giants of the camera as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston but it was not until he became a teaching assistant to anthropologist Margaret Mead that he was encouraged to meld his two interests.

Mead was the only one of his anthropology mentors who encouraged him to use pictures as well as words.

"Until recently," Asch told The Times in a 1987 interview, "film was considered academically suspect and was tolerated only as a supplement to the real work of anthropologists--writing."

And for nearly four decades--from the mid-1950s to the present--he emphasized the science rather than the glamour involved in this new discipline.

His work has been honored by the French ethnographic society Musee de l'Homme while retrospectives of Asch's films have been staged in Germany and New York.

He came to USC in 1982 and the next year was named director of the visual anthropology center.

Over the years his students have produced films on Los Angeles gangs, the homeless in Venice, Chinese shamanism, the Portuguese American community and the Peking Opera.

He is survived by his wife, Patsy, and four children, two sisters, a brother and two grandchildren.

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