Cultures of Photography

(Post)colonial Archives and Photography in Africa and South Asia


This presentation is a result of the interdisciplinary seminar Cultures of Photography. (Post)colonial Archives and Photography in Africa and South Asia which took place in summer 2016. The seminar as well as this publication are result of a cooperation between Cathrine Bublatzky (Chair of Visual and Media Anthropology, Cluster Asia and Europe in a Global Context, University of Heidelberg) and Kerstin Meincke (Chair of Art History and Theory, Institute for Art and Art History, University of Duisburg-Essen). It brought together students from three institutions – the Universities of Heidelberg and Duisburg-Essen and the Folkwang University of Arts – and three academic disciplines – art history, photography and visual anthropology. Following a research-based concept, the seminar groups focused on the theoretical discussion of historical and contemporary photographic positions and projects in Asia and Africa that are closely linked to the urban space and its notions of modernity, freedom, and liberalism. Furthermore, specific media implications, materialities, and photographic practices were considered.

As part of the seminar the students formulated relevant research questions and conceptualized own projects as visual essays to be published in this Atomic Wiki course. In preparation of these essays, students discussed and exchanged about their respective projects with their peers in the course of two joint workshops that formed an integral element of the seminar.

Seminar description

In 19th and 20th century, there was more or less a clear divide between photographic research in the global North and global South. Only recent developments indicate a growing acknowledgment and reappraisal of those separate “histories of photography”, which originated from this divide, and that considered in particular the social usage, artistic form of expression, and aesthetics in the field of photography.

The engagement with “foreign archives” and the specific insights from such engagement present a challenge, both methodologically and practically, with which the participants in the seminar “Cultures of Photography” engaged with.

The seminar approached a time frame stretching from colonial history to post-colonialism and present with an emphasis on photographic culture(s) of South/East Asia (e.g. India) on the one hand and Africa (e.g. Nigeria) on the other hand. Along its regional focus the seminar offered a comparison which explicitly applied a South-South axis and considered, for example, common political histories of being former (British) colonies. Which developments have taken place in photographic practice in both contexts since the end of the 19th century? Which influence did the colonial occupation have on media usage in the respective countries? How was photography established as an artistic form of expression? Which are the specific cultural particularities in the respective countries? Which photographic archives have been produced and how is such visual heritage handled? And what are the main topics and practices photographers engage with?

Workshop Program

Both workshops addressed (post)colonial photographic archives from Africa and India, with a particular attention to global and local interconnection and various artistic positions such as Pushpamala N, Sunil Gupta or Santu Mofokeng and Malick Sidibé.
Discussing original photographs at Folkwang Museum, June 23, 2016

The first workshop was held at the Museum Folkwang / Duisburg-Essen University/ Folkwang University of Arts' SANAA building (June 23–25, 2016), where the students were provided with the possibility to engage with the photographic collection of Folkwang Museum, to discuss original photographs in smaller groups and to meet leading scholars, curators and artists.
Workshop atmosphere at SANAA Building, June 25, 2016

Part of this meeting were the talks by following invited guests:

Florian Ebner (Head of the Photographic Collection at Folkwang Museum, Essen): Street and studio as photographic spaces

Professor Kerstin Pinther (Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich): Afropolis. City, Media, Art

Professor Stefanie Michels (Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf): "Global Photography – colonial mediality"

Daniel Kötter (Berlin): state-theatre #1 Lagos (film presentation)
Visit at Heidelberg Kunstverein, July 16, 2016

The second workshop took place at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies in Heidelberg (July 15–16, 2016), where students proceeded with the material work in groups with the focus on ‘Urban Spaces of Emancipation and Independence’ and some specific exhibition examples.

The workshop included a visit to the Heidelberg Kunstverein and guided tour in the exhibition With / against the flow. Contemporary photographic interventions (curated by Christin Müller and Florian Ebner) with Meike Wolfschlag. In a second part of the workshop Eric Decker (Heidelberg Research Architecture) introduced to the digital online platform Atomic Wiki to train students in the tool for creating their respective essays as final seminar paper. The results can be viewed with the following content guide.

Content guide

Visual Essays (Heidelberg)

Photography As Historical Reference. Photography From Historical Reference (Kar)

The Breathing Archive. Social Dynamics of Photographic Archives (Beck)

Banal Activism: Constructing Legitimacy through Documenting the Everyday Ordinary (Alawa)

Fotografische Archive und Erinnerungskonstruktion von Flüchtlingen - am Beispiel von S. in Heidelberg (Peters)

Non-ethnographic and Non-souvenir Usage of Early Chinese Photography (Huang)

When Politics Get Lost in Aesthetics: S. M. Prokudin-Gorskii Collection of Early 20th Century Baltics and Central Asia/Russian Empire (Rainyte)

The Personal Archive to Discover the History of Qajar (Munni)

Visual Essays (Duisburg-Essen University/Folkwang University of Arts)

Germaine Krull und Afrika - Von Urbanität zur Anti-Urbanität? (Demba)

Guy Tillim - Perspektivenwechsel mit dem Ende der Apartheid (Chhima)

Documentary Photography – Charismatic Churches in Lagos (Meng)

The Personal Archive to Discover the History of Qajar (Kaib)

Philip Kwame Apagya - Fusion von Fotografie und Malerei (Kaefer)