Sunday 21st April 2019
Our Heritage

Our walk through Africa’s Photography history

In Our walk through Africa’s Photography History, we see that the earliest surviving photographs from Africa are mostly of Egyptian monuments. At this period exposures needed to be several minutes long, and almost all photographs were taken out of doors. The earliest surviving photograph of a black African is a daguerrotype of a female chief from Mozambique, taken by the French photographer Thiesson in 1845, and now in the Eastman Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York.

The very worn inscription on the front of the daguerrotype reads: Native woman from Sofala, Monomotapa, aged 30 years. Although still young this woman’s hair is almost entirely white.

The very worn inscription on the front of the daguerrotype reads: Native woman from Sofala, Monomotapa, aged 30 years. Although still young this woman’s hair is almost entirely white.

The march into Africa was slowed in the mid-nineteenth century as photographic equipment was very heavy and cumbersome to carry around. In addition exposures were long (compared to modern times) and the process of developing and fixing photographs (most commonly at this time the wet collodion process) was difficult – especially in the interior of Africa. This meant that while studio photography, and photography in the major urban areas of Africa developed from the 1850s onwards, the use of photography beyond these controlled environments developed much more slowly.

It is however most interesting to note that photography was used in this era to record the activities of European explorers, missionaries, armies and administrators. It is believed that Livingstone’s Zambesi expedition from 1858 to 1863 was the first major African expedition in sub-Saharan Africa to employ an official photographer.

Dr Kirk-Zambezi Expedition

The ‘Ma Robert’, Dr Livingstone’s ship on the second Zambesi expedition of 1858, photographed on the Zambesi by Sir John Kirk.

This early introduction of photography into the continent primarily by the missionary proved to be as much of a blessing as it was a curse and deeply framed photography of all things African, creating stereotypes of Africa in the eyes of the world.

Serialization continued on www.AfricanPhotoMag.co.ke

Dr. T. Jack Thompson visited the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, in May 2003 where he shared his research project on the history of photography in Africa….Images of Africa: Photography in the Nineteenth Century:.

May 18, 2017