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Portraiture and Photography in Africa

Edited by John Peffer and Elisabeth L. Cameron

Publication Year: 2013

Beautifully illustrated, Portrait Photography in Africa offers new interpretations of the cultural and historical roles of photography in Africa. Twelve leading scholars look at early photographs, important photographers’ studios, the uses of portraiture in the 19th century, and the current passion for portraits in Africa. They review a variety of topics, including what defines a common culture of photography, the social and political implications of changing technologies for portraiture, and the lasting effects of culture on the idea of the person depicted in the photographic image.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures


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pp. 1-6


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pp. 7-9

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pp. ix-xiii

Perhaps counterintuitively, this book has its origins in a six-year project on Chinese biographies/autobiographies and portraits/self-portraits that I led while serving as Patricia and Rowland Rebele Endowed Chair in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It seemed to me that many of the issues I encountered as I engaged with Chinese photographic traditions ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Any publication that involves more than a dozen authors owes a note of gratitude to more people than can possibly be named. Each author has included acknowledgments at the beginning of their own essay, so the editors, John Peffer and Elisabeth Cameron, would like to use this space to thank those who worked on the broader project. ...

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Introduction: The Study of Photographic Portraiture in Africa

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pp. 1-32

In 1894, the African American minister C. S. Smith toured the coastal towns of western Africa seeking modern compatriots, business opportunities, and peers. His published account of that journey is illustrated with photographs of local black elites of the region, mostly the work of local black photographers. By including their images in book form, Smith helped create a record of Africa’s early modern ...


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1 Portrait Photography: A Visual Currency in the Atlantic Visualscape

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pp. 35-65

African historians’ interest in photographic sources is still rather recent and can be traced back to the mid-1980s. Today, after more than twenty years of research, we know the general outlines of the history of African photography, but have yet to move beyond the larger picture.1 In looking closely at some centers of the early history of West and Central African photography, such as Sierra Leone, ...

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2 Lutterodt Family Studios and the Changing Face of Early Portrait Photographs from the Gold Coast

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pp. 67-101

Photography’s particular histories in West Africa suggest that the medium has been profoundly shaped by subsequent viewers and owners who have altered and adapted photographs for personal use.1 My own research has been rooted in the frameworks of family collections in Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana (formerly Gold Coast), where photography was taken up as a momentous form of portraiture ...

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3 Yoruba Studio Photographers in Francophone West Africa

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pp. 102-140

In early 1997, while doing a field study on photography as a profession in Niamey, Niger, I realized for the first time that the portrait studio photographers of this city of the Sahelian region were mostly foreigners and, more specifically, that they came from three coastal countries: Togo, Benin, and especially Nigeria. Moreover, all Nigerian photographers were born in either Igboho or Shaki, two small ...

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4 The Fieldworker and the Portrait: The Social Relations of Photography

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pp. 141-173

During the spring of 2004, I was in Kabompo District, North-Western Province, Zambia, conducting extended field research on women’s visual culture, when my colleague Raoul Birnbaum e-mailed me about organizing a conference on portraiture and photography in Africa and I began reflecting more self-consciously upon my own photographic practices in the field. I realized that in many respects, ...


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5 "A Photograph Steals the Soul": The History of an Idea

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pp. 177-212

One of the most popular debates swirling around photography on the internet is whether or not there are people who believe that photographs can steal their subjects’ souls. This was the topic of a forum on the “philosophy of photography” in 2009, launched by a respondent who describes how he occasionally encounters individuals who dislike being photographed: ...

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6 The Past in the Present: Photographic Portraiture and the Evocation of Multiple Histories in the Bamum Kingdom of Cameroon

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pp. 213-252

Photographs—the actual physical objects, also referred to as image objects—are always on the move and can always be transformed. Recent photographic studies of the social uses of photographs have focused on the “entangled layers of social biographies of individual photographs and groups of photographs . . . that have active social lives beyond the bounds of the image itself.”1 Immediately upon their ...

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7 Mombasa on Display: Photography and the Formation of an Urban Public, from the 1940s Onward

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pp. 253-286

The study of African photography has emerged as a dynamic and widely appreciated field over the last decade. However, much of the literature is related to the presentation of photography by Africans within museum and gallery contexts, with only a handful of scholars providing discussions based on in-depth and onsite research. My own research has explored the recent practice of black-and-white ...

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8 Portrait Photography in a Postcolonial Age: How Beauty Tells the Truth

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pp. 287-312

When people evaluate the presence of beauty or ill in their lives—whether they are looking at photographs in an album or at other people walking along the street on the way to market or to naming ceremony, or running away from soldiers and armed police officers during a civil disturbance—they practice an aesthetic way of knowing the world. Despite the mass of collected data on contemporary aesthetic ...


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9 Likeness or Not: Musings on Portraiture in Canonical African Art and Its Implications for African Portrait Photography

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pp. 315-340

The evocative power of named masquerades among the Okpella, an Edo-speaking group who live seventy miles north of Benin City in southern Nigeria, drew me into a cross-cultural study of portrait images in the late 1970s.1 Combing the literature using a definition for portraiture that combined “personal reference,” “memory,” and “intentionality” brought numerous cases to light of images that ...

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10 Àkó-graphy: Òwò Portraits

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pp. 341-361

In the Yoruba town of Òwò, Nigeria, there were two traditional burial ceremonies. After the body was interned, a second burial ceremony might take place. Àkó is a naturalistic life-size effigy once used in and named after the second burial ceremony. Àkó is a portrait that attempts to capture the physical likeness, essential identity, character, and social status of a deceased parent through figurative sculpture ...

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11 Visual Griots: Identity, Aesthetics, and the Social Roles of Portrait Photographers in Mali

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pp. 363-405

Throughout history, griots (oral historians, musicians, and poets) have held an important social and political position among communities in the West African region of present-day Mali. Admired and appreciated for their creativity and artistic acumen, their expertise rests in part on their ability to embellish upon the positive characteristics of their patrons. Through their verbal orchestrations they ...

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12 The Intermediality of Portraiture in Northern Côte d'Ivoire

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pp. 407-437

Art works are not bound to a particular environment, nor do they exist in isolation from other art works. They relate to other objects in all phases of their life—during production, distribution, and consumption.1 And they also relate to what the artists, spectators, and other actors know about these objects. African artists are well aware that other media and modes of expression now complement what ...


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pp. 439-440


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pp. 441-452

E-ISBN-13: 9780253008725
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253008602

Page Count: 472
Illustrations: 151 color illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures