P121 – Photographs, Ethics and Africa on Display
10 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Kristine Juncker / University of London
Peffer John / Ramapo College



Brunet François, Université Paris 7

Photographic collections or “archives” from Africa and its diasporas are increasingly en vogue among researchers and curators internationally. What is less often discussed are the sensitive issues involved in repackaging such image objects for display in new contexts and for broader audiences in terms of historical time, geographical place, or cultural location. For instance, copyright is usually understood to reside with the commissioner of a studio portrait but this has not usually been respected with regard to African collections that often fetishize their authors and individual collectors, with negatives used to reprint original images. Private family photographs are regularly repackaged to represent or condemn national culture. There are  also rights over personal images, beyond legal definition, which are more moral, spiritual, or cultural in dimension. In some cases, older images have been subject to local iconoclasm because they are not perceived to fit local definitions of propriety today. And yet, there are good historical reasons for wanting to display these images today, because, as in the case of studio photography, they show the world a kind of kind of positive self-imaging as an antidote to afropessimism. This panel will discuss ways to work with this material in new ways, with both empathy for the subjects depicted and sensitivity to contemporary views on images.

Photographies, éthique et l’Afrique concernant l’affichage

Les collections photographiques ou “archives” provenant de l’Afrique et de ses diasporas suscitent un intérêt croissant de la part des chercheurs et des conservateurs du monde entier. Ce qui est moins souvent débattu est la question délicate de la présentation de telles “images-objets” dans de nouveaux contextes et pour un public plus large, en termes historique, géographique, et culturel. On considère souvent par exemple que pour un portrait d’atelier, le copyright est détenu par son commanditaire ; or cela n’est habituellement pas respecté dans les collections africaines, qui souvent fétichisent leurs auteurs et leurs collectionneurs privés, et utilisent les négatifs pour retirer l’image originale. Les photographies familiales privées sont souvent transformées pour représenter ou condamner la culture nationale. Il y a aussi des droits sur les images personnelles, au-delà de toute définition légale, qui relèvent plus d’une dimension morale, spirituelle ou culturelle. Dans certains cas, des images plus anciennes ont été la cible d’un iconoclasme local car elles n’étaient pas perçues comme correspondant à la définition locale et contemporaine de la propriété. Et pourtant, des raisons historiques importantes poussent à exposer aujourd’hui ces images car, comme c’est le cas pour la photographie d’atelier, elles présentent au monde une forme d’autoportrait positif agissant comme un antidote à l’afro-pessimisme. Cette session proposera une réflexion sur les nouvelles manières de travailler avec ces archives, qui impliquent à la fois une empathie pour le sujet représenté et une attention particulière aux points de vue contemporains sur les images.


Paper 1

Chepngtich Pamela / University of Bayreuth

Vernacular Photography as Subject of Research: Ethical Considerations

Private photographs, especially from Africa, offer an alternative story concerning the subjects portrayed. In my study on varied photography genres on Refugees in Dadaab, North-Eastern Kenya, it is evident that Snapshots transgress dominant representations of refugees in Kenya. Such photographs highlight the largely marginalized, more positive themes concerning refugees, as compared to the more accessible institutional representations.
Yet the academic study of such private photographs demands a consideration of various factors that come into play, for example the shift in context from their private consumption to the now more public, academic consumption. This shift demands a consideration of not only copyright ownership of such photographs, but also fair use of these images in considering the views and possible rights of the subjects concerned.
In this article, I interrogate these two points in order to understand my use of these pictures in my study. Such a probe offers methodological foundations for studying such photographs.

Paper 2

Pinheiro Bruno / University of São Paulo

Representations of Brazilian Capoeira through an Illustrated News Magazine: a Case Study

This paper analyses two photographic narratives published by the Brazilian illustrated news magazine “O Cruzeiro” about Capoeira. These narratives reflects the main debates on photojournalism’s professional practices concerning to Afro-Brazilian communities during the re-democratization period, after the dictatorship known as the New State (1930-1945). With the growth of the commercial mass media industry after 1946, images of expressions of Afro-Brazilian culture as the Capoeira and the Candomblé started to be reproduced and associated with the most diverse discourses. The French photographer Jean Manzon published the first of the narratives studied in here in January 1947, in which he associates Capoeira with criminal practices, based in the racial models of criminal anthropology’s literature diffused at Brazilian universities until 1930, that legitimated the criminalization of Afro-Brazilian communities in media. Pierre Verger, also a French photographer, published the second narrative analyzed in January 1948. Verger associated the theme with the rhetoric of the folklore studies that has become an important issue of State after 1946, supported by UNESCO’s agenda on cultural heritage. Based on those analyses, it will be possible to follow the multiple re-appropriations of Capoeira’s visual dimension by the Brazilian mass media industry and the relations among the different agents related to that process: Capoeira players, journalists and state officials.

Paper 3

Zeitlyn David / University of Oxford

Balancing the Practical with the Ethical: a Case Study from Cameroon

Developing the archives of the work of Jacques Toussele, a studio photographer from Cameroon, with the help of the British Library Endangered Archives Program has involved a continual set of compromises between the practical and the ethical.  In the absence of documentation we cannot get permissions from the people in the photographs since we do not know who they are. (Even if we did have names it would be extremely hard in practice to track down the c 100,000 people depicted, many of whom are dead).  The BL has a rigorous take-down policy which has been designed to addresses this sort of dilemma but such policies may not be being applied in the Cameroonian Universities which hold copies of the archive. The photographer holds the negatives and hence some of the rights, but in whose legal system? And beyond the narrowly defined scope of jurisprudence how can and should researchers and archivists deal with local concerns about witchcraft and notoriety which affect attitudes to archives and display? Archives are concerned with the long-term so responses have to address attitudes which may have changed and may change again. Archivists and researchers are stuck in the middle. This is not necessarily a bad place to be.

Paper 4

Miescher Giorgio / Centre for African Studies, University of Basel

Photographs beyond Ruins: The Usakos Old Location Albums, 1920s-60s

The paper focuses on three private photographic collections kept by four women in a central Namibian town called Usakos and how these collections became the centre piece of an exhibition which is scheduled to be launched in the local municipality building in mid-2015.
The photographic collections are part of a diverse culture of remembering, memory work and community building in the Usakos location which was forcefully removed in the 1960s. These images constitute personal albums, subjective narratives of and aesthetic interventions in the course of a history that left people out of sight/site; a history that denied them visibility and voice as residents, citizens and human beings. The photographs cover a wide range of genres, subjects and locations; they include portraits of family members, images of public spaces, of leisure activities, and street-views. Most of the pictures were taken by African itinerant photographers and residents of the old location, whose work was considered to be part of an inclusive, cosmopolitan notion of community and African cultural production.
The social, cultural and aesthetic variety of life in the ‘old location’ informs the ways in which people relate to these photographs today: with pride and a deep sense of nostalgia and loss. Forced removals and decades of economic hardship and political tutelage ruined a thriving community, and the photographs have become distant reflections on a landscape meanwhile marked by decay and dislocation.

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