Sources and Resources: Photography and Archives in Africa
Special issue of Critical Interventions
edited by Jürg Schneider, Marian Nur Goni, and Érika Nimis
Since the “discovery” of photography in Africa and photographs from Africa as sources for academic research or marketable goods on the international art market some 25 year ago, photo archives have increasingly attracted the attention of scholars, art dealers, artists and curators, who also act as resource persons and main intermediaries between the archives and the public. From the early 1990s on, various individuals from the global North have been ploughing the African continent, mainly focussing on early photo studios, in search of historical photographs which also engendered important material gains. Researchers working in and with photo collections of professional studio photographers, state press agencies, para state institutions and families have created from these sources an impressive though still incomplete corpus of scholarly work that touches on a great variety of topics such as biographies of early and contemporary African photographers or the various forms of photographic practices on the continent. Photo exhibitions and festivals in the North and South organized by a rather exclusive group of curators have mushroomed in recent years and so have exhibition catalogues and monographs. Not least, the last ten years have seen a number of projects that focussed on the digitization (and to a lesser extent material preservation) of photo collections in Sub-Saharan Africa with the common goal of conserving the visual heritage of the continent and making it accessible to a wider public. All this has had and still has a deep impact on the circulation, accessibility, perception and use of historical photographs from Africa. Likewise, all these activities have profoundly changed our understanding of photographs’ materiality, the ways how it is perceived, dealt with and addressed as well as the cultural and economic value that is attributed to them.
But not only was the photograph as the material, or after its digitization, immaterial carrier of visual information of the past affected by these activities but also the archive. Answering to changing societal processes and discourses, market logics and explicit or implicit policies with regard to access, reproduction and preservation photo archives are more than ever exposed to troubling dynamics of reconfiguration and profound transformations. New technological resources – the Internet, digitization and databases – have qualified the materiality of photo archives and challenge the boundaries between form and content. The archive has lost much of its status as a national or personal patrimony, but increasingly circulates “in global systems of loan, exchanges and markets” (Hall 2002, 337)*. What is more, photo archives, and the control over the inclusion, exclusion, circulation and access of and to the materials they hold, have now increasingly become tokens in a struggle for political, social or economic power and the formation of cultural and national identities.
Contributors to this special issue of Critical Interventions on Photography and Archives in Africa are invited to rethink in new terms all issues addressed above, based on the notions of sources (the photographic archive itself in all its forms) and resources (encompassing all of the persons, means and technological tools involved in the valorization of photographic archives), in order to offer new readings of these two key notions in this specific field of research.
* Hall, Martin. 2002. « Blackbirds and Black Butterflies. » In Refiguring the Archive, edited by Carolyn Hamilton, Verne Harris, Michèle Pickover et al., Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 333-361.
Please submit your abstract by Sept. 1st, 2017 to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted abstracts should be no longer than 500 words, and be sent as an attachment in Microsoft Word or PDF format.