ECAS 2017 – Details of our panel
We are pleased to welcome you in Basel from June 29 to July 1st, 2017 to the 7th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS) and our panel “Photographs and Photographers in Africa Visual Entanglements of the Urban and the Rural.”
Here are the full details of the panel:
Convenors: Erika Nimis (Université du Québec à Montréal, UQAM), Marian Nur Goni (EHESS), Jürg Schneider (University of Basel)
Studies on photography in Africa have mainly focused on the practices in coastal areas and urban settings, the very sites where photography was first introduced. Along these inquiries contemporary African photographers mostly explore the political, social and cultural dynamics of the capitals they live in, a stance that stands in stark contrast with Western mainstream representations of Africa highlighting villages, natural landscapes or “wild” animals.
But lines are never so clear-cut and this panel precisely seeks to investigate the complex entanglements of the urban and the rural in colonial and post-colonial Africa as they appear in photographs and photographers’ practices or strategies.
An essential topic of the historiography of photography in Africa is the movement of photographic practices from the coastal cities to the continent’s rural areas in the interior. This not only initiated processes of appropriation and adaptation to specific rural contexts, but opened up new imaginaries and new types of entanglements of the urban and the rural.
#1 – Keeping the village at bay: Constructing the Congolese Bourgeois’ image in the 1950s
Sandrine Colard (INHA)
In the colonial Congo, the photographic self-definition of modern Africans was predicated on their sartorial, décor, and demeanor’s remoteness from non-urban environments. Additionally, the severe control exerted on the Congolese’s mobility made the itinerancy of African photographers within the country uneasy, and today only a handful of images testify to the existence of indigenous practices in rural areas of the Belgian Congo. As a result, the vast majority of depictions of rural inhabitants and settings were the products of European image-makers. This paper proposes to examine this opposition within the corpus of the photographic service of InforCongo (1945-1960), a state-sponsored propaganda agency. The catalogue of Inforcongo’s photo-library divided its photographic items between natural sights and anthropological types on one side, and the cities, European actors and the new African bourgeoisie on the other. That bourgeoisie, the so-called class of évolués, was mainly portrayed by the Congolese photographer Joseph Makula on permanent assignment in Léopoldville, while his Belgian colleagues were free to travel around the country to bring back images of “traditional” societies and natural aspects. This paper wants to explore how this paucity of African-authored pictures of rural Congolese and the opposition between both realms encouraged by the colonial system have influenced the Congolese bourgeois self-imaging and imagining.
#2 – We Have Never Been Urban: Oumar Ka’s “Rural” Portraits (1958-69)
Giulia Paoletti (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Until now, the experience of photography in Africa is one that has been largely read against the backdrop of urban living. Since the 1990s, scholars and curators alike have often foregrounded the aesthetics that emerged from the collaboration between photographers and their patrons living in capital cities. In an effort to expand our understanding of this medium, this paper will focus on the early career of the Senegalese Oumar Ka (b. 1930). In considering his itinerant practice between 1959 and 1968, I will study his portraits of individuals and groups taken in open landscapes and small villages across the Baol region, 200 kilometers from Dakar. Differently from his colleagues working in Dakar like the famous Mama Casset (1908-92), Ka privileged long shots where his sitters are at the distance allowing us to see local architecture and natural surroundings. Unlike standardized ready-made backdrops, these accidental backgrounds become active elements with whom the sitter intimately interacts. The radically different compositions and overall aesthetic encourage us to revisit the conflation of photography’s modernity with urban living to consider the possibility of other “rural” tastes and styles.
#3 – Jacques Touselle between town and bush (Mbouda, Cameroon)
David Zeitlyn (University of Oxford)
The Jacques Touselle archive contains images taken in his studio in town and others in rural markets. The contrast will be used to explore whether the town bush contrast was significant. For people in Ouest Cameroun after the UPC insurrection the appearance of sophistication was important for those in the villages and the town alike, so the urban rural contrast can be exaggerated for all that there is a clear contrast between photos taken on request in family compounds from those in the studio in town.
#4 – Challenging the iconography of urban and rural spaces in post-colonial West Cameroon
Jürg Schneider (University of Basel) & Rosario Mazuela (APhI)
The Photographic Section of the Southern Cameroons Information Service was created in Buea in 1955. Set up in at a time when the end of colonial rule was foreseeable the Photographic Section continued its activities after Southern Cameroons’ independence in 1960 and subsequent reunification with East Cameroon in 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The photographers’ duty was to follow any governmental or otherwise socially relevant events throughout the territory of West Cameroon (today’s Northwest and Southwest Regions). Based in Buea, the former capital of German Kamerun and subsequently of Southern Cameroons, a British Trusteeship, the Photographic Section and its photographers had to deal with the challenge of creating an post-colonial iconography of national unity in a quite heterogeneous region that was characterized by a few semi-urban centres and large rural spaces.
#5 – Being a photographer in the Circle of Kita, Mali
Erika Nimis (UQAM)
Since the digital revolution and solar energy have reached all areas of Mali in the late 2000s, the profession of photographer has considerably evolved, trying to adapt to new expectations and behaviors. Almost all Malians are now equipped with cell phones and can take as many pictures as they want, and keep them on their phones. This paper, mostly relying on visual, but also written and oral sources (interviews conducted in Kita in 1996 and then again twenty years later), intends to compare times before the mobile phone era, i.e. analog times, with the present situation, in order to identify what changed (or not) in photographers’ practices and their clients’ behaviors in this rural area of southwestern Mali, of which Kita is the administrative centre.