ed. by Christopher Morton and Darren Newbury. Bloomsbury, June 2015. 264 p. ill. ISBN 9781472591241 (cl.), $112.00.
Reviewed January 2016.
The African Photographic Archive: Research and Curatorial Strategies examines the relationship between photographic archives, history, and culture across the African continent. Eleven case studies highlight uses of archival collections, with implications for the future of image collections in Africa and beyond. Photographic archives in Africa are intertwined with a long history of problematic imagery and colonial structures, but there is increasing potential for celebrating traditions of resistance and visions of new futures as local communities are increasingly empowered to preserve and share their own histories.
Adapted from a one-day workshop at Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, "Interpreting African Photographic Archives: Research and Curatorial Strategies," the contributors to this book are scholars in the history of photography, anthropology, and visual studies specific to the African continent. Christopher Morton, Curator of Photograph and Manuscript Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and Darren Newbury, Professor of Photography at the University of Brighton, edited this work.
The chapters are divided into four themes--Connected Histories, Ethnographies, Political Framings, and Archival Propositions. The subject matter is varied, including among other noteworthy chapters, a case study of some of the first photographs taken in Africa during Austrian photographer Richard Buchta's photographic tour of what is now South Sudan and northern Uganda in 1878-9, and the subsequent trajectory of those images, by Christopher Morton; an examination of funeral rites and their relation to photography in Kenya, by Heike Behrend; and a collaborative photo essay between Ugandan community center organizer Kaddu Wasswa and Dutch artist Andrea Stultiens.
This scholarly work emphasizes image collections within informal contexts, in addition to more formal archives housed in missions and state institutions. This is a culturally relevant choice, reflecting the many ways that local communities collect and interact with photographs. In today's post-colonial, post-apartheid era, photographic collections are at their best when they provide an opportunity for new generations of Africans to reinterpret their own histories and embrace narratives of empowerment and pride. With this in mind, The African Photographic Archive would have benefitted from chapters written by scholars of indigenous African origin across the diaspora. Coordinators of future workshops and publications can enrich the field of African visual studies exponentially and encourage further empowerment of local communities by seeking out these uniquely relevant perspectives.
Each chapter contains numerous high-quality black-and-white illustrations, with many of the photographs printed on a full page. There are endnotes for each chapter and a comprehensive bibliography, which will lead scholars down new avenues in their research, whether or not their focus is specific to Africa. Libraries with strengths in photography, anthropology, and visual studies will improve their holdings for upper-division undergraduates and above by acquiring this volume.