17th ACASA Triennial Symposium – Details of our double panel!
We are so pleased to welcome you to our panel “Handling/Manipulating Photographs in Africa: New Perspectives in Photography History” taking place at the University of Ghana in Legon, Accra, on August 11th during the 17th Triennial Symposium of ACASA.
Throughout its social life, a photographic image, be it on film or digitally rendered, is manipulated by various people. Often an untold aspect, the focus of this panel will be on the gestures, visible or not, which allow the appearance or the re-emergence of photographs at certain times and contexts under particular shapes: how do they affect the way we understand these images and the events they highlight? And what are the cultural, political, economic and social stakes underlying them? All types of “post-production” gestures – from the editing process to those necessary for image conservation or even a photograph’s destruction – are concerned by this call, which supposes to move away from the general perspective which puts much emphasis on the image producer – the photographer – at the expense of all the stakeholders who routinely and physically handle the photographic object – by selecting, pasting, framing, exhibiting, printing, digitizing, conserving it (or not) –, thus highly contributing to enrich its polysemy.
Part 1 – Friday August 11, 9:00-10:30 – Session 8.6
Visualizing and Reinventing Ijo Histories through Painted and Other Reproductions of J. A. Green’s Photos by Lisa Aronson (Skidmore College)
During his illustrious photographic career (1892-1905), Ijo photographer J. A. Green took more than 350 photographs of places and people. One of his devoted subjects was the highly acclaimed Abonnema Chief Young-Briggs, who had led his followers to their present settlement in the early 1880s. A century after their culture hero’s death in 1905, Ijo artist Emmanuel Tari Fems began a series of life size paintings of Young-Briggs using Green’s original portraits as his source. Today, these colorful, photo-inspired canvases loom large both in the Young-Briggs Memorial Hall and in the one honoring his most recent descendent, Chief Lulu Briggs. Comparing the paintings to Green’s originals, this paper argues that Fem’s painted versions deviate from their originals to more effectively aggrandize Young-Briggs, afford viewers greater agency, and even reinvent Abonnema dynastic history.
Ekifananyi Kya Muteesa, Beyond the Photograph by Andrea Stultiens (Leiden University)
One of the oldest photographs made in terrain we now know as Uganda pictures Ssekabaka (the late King) Muteesa of Buganda who reigned from 1856 till 1884. The photograph was made by Henry Morton Stanley in 1875. The negative is in the collection of the Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (Belgium). Everybody I spoke to in Uganda had seen (part of) the picture, nobody knew of the existence of the photograph. As part of my ongoing research into the uses and nature of photographs in Uganda I traced the life of various interpretations of Muteesa’s likeness, and invited contemporary Ugandan artists to make their own interpretation of the photograph. The proposed paper will have the form of an illustrated letter in which I address Ssekabaka Muteesa, giving him an update on what happened to his portrait since it was made, and what we can learn from the various historical and contemporary interpretations. The portraits are not informing us of Muteesa’s ‘image’, but also help us to understand of the position and uses of (photographic) pictures in Uganda at large.
Priya Ramrakha: What’s Possible by Erin Haney (VIAD, University of Johannesburg, Corcoran School of Art, GWU)
Priya Ramrakha’s (b. Kenya 1935- d. Biafra 1968) photographic archive resurfaced after nearly forty years, come to light primarily due to the efforts of Shravan Vidyarthi’s research and his 2009 film, African Lens. Ramrakha’s published work in east Africa leaned heavily on editorial cooperation or conflict, and by turns jumped linguistic, political and geographic divides.
As the Mau Mau war pressed on and the Kenyan State of Emergency outlawed insurgent newspapers, Ramrakha’s images contested British imperial propaganda in discrete distribution. Time and Life published his pioneering work from the late 1950s, heavily editorializing his photos of the frontlines, independence movements, coups, assassinations, and political protest in ways widely divergent from his humanist approach. This paper highlights the stakes of this archive, emphasizes the sources and interviews by Ramrakha’s contemporaries, and acknowledges the changing demands of ethical access, storytelling, and photography and photojournalism’s rhyzomatic processes and characters.
Part 2 – Friday August 11, 11:00-12:30 – Session 9.6
Deriving multiple meanings from Nigerian meme pictures by Deborah N. Dike (University of Ibadan)
Meme picture is the term usually used for a creatively manipulated, usually humorous or satirical picture/image, often embedded with letterings, which are popularly replicated and circulated on the Internet. Some of the meme pictures replicated on <Nairaland.com>, a Nigerian Internet site, during Nigeria’s 2015 presidential electioneering on the politics thread of Nairaland, are instances of memes having multiple meanings as a result of manipulation. This makes a case for the possibility of multiple meanings for similar pictures. Through non-participant online observation, forty-four (44) meme pictures that appeared on the thirty-three (33) discussions on the politics thread of <Nairaland.com> during Nigeria’s 2015 presidential electioneering are examined to study the possibilities of multiple meanings due to the manipulation of images and letterings on pictures. This study hopes to state that multiple meanings are derivable from meme pictures as a result of ingenuity and creativity utilized in manipulating pictures.
Seriality and Collective Curation: Photographs as Printed Objects in West African Contexts by Jennifer Bajorek (Hampshire College)
African photography histories suggest new approaches to photographic handling and manipulation, many of which run counter to dominant concepts of authorship, spectatorship, and reference. The proposed paper will examine several such approaches to handling and manipulation based on West African examples, historic and contemporary, that foreground photographs as printed objects, inscribed in serial logics. A growing body of scholarship on photography in Africa has demonstrated the centrality of manipulation to local photographic histories. In West Africa in particular, scholars have examined processes such as retouching, writing, drawing, and painting on photographs with various media, and hand colorization to make arguments foregrounding manipulated photographs’ status as unique objects. Because they are unique, the images that have been prioritized in regional photography histories have often seemed to defy dominant paradigms of photographic reproduction as a purely mechanical or technological process. The present paper will look at two case studies drawn from West African contexts that shift our attention to other photographs that continue to live, despite manipulation, as serial, printed objects. The first case study examines practices of serial reproduction, widespread throughout 20th-century West African collections, as a species of collective curation that partakes of seriality and conceptions of reproducibility that are not strictly mechanical. The second case study looks at work by Nigerian artist Kelani Abass. These images inscribe manipulated and other photographs in relation to calendars and other printed artifacts drawn from his family’s printing press, to open up new trajectories linking photographs to printed texts and objects.
Nuku Studio: A strategic mission to establishing a photographic business and archive by Nii Obodai (Photographer/Artist, Accra)
Practicing as an independent photographer for the last 20 years I realize more than ever that without the institutional and organizational support systems in place, we will remain, always, on the verge of potential and culturally defensive. To turn this around, we need not only to produce our own image, but also to consider the images from the past and handle them ourselves. Therefore Nuku Studio is both developing an educational support system for photographers in Ghana, but also looking into ways to make photographic legacies available to them and beyond. Establishing Nuku Studio is a strategic move towards putting in place an essential support structure that is needed towards a sustainable photography culture.