Photography and Africa
Reaktion Books 2010
In Chapter 3 of Erin Haney’s excellent book Photography and Africa (Reaktion Books, 2010) there are seven photos taken in central Africa at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Six advertise progress – from the smartly dressed and armed native troops (though still barefoot) to a posed photograph of a caravan of ivory and a depiction of rubber tapping. These images were taken to show the success, the organization, and the wealth of the Congo to the people of Brussels, Antwerp and beyond. The seventh photo shows a man sitting silently next to two indistinct objects, with a bland backdrop of open ground and two or three palm trees. This photo was also taken to inform public opinion in Europe (mainly Britain), but in this case as part of a movement against Belgian interests (and atrocities) in the Congo. The two indistinct objects in front of the man, incidently, are the severed foot and hand of his murdered five year old daughter.
Not all of the photographs in Erin’s book are as politically charged as these. The book is remarkable for its variety, from a publicity self-portrait of a pioneer West African photographer taken in the 1890s to photojournalism from the last days of Apartheid and images of more than a century of industrial development on the continent.
I wasn’t sure whether an audio interview with the author of a book of photography would work, but I think it did. That’s partly thanks to Erin herself, and partly thanks to the book itself and the stories it has to tell. I hope you enjoy the interview!