Section Three
Africans and Photography

When photography spread along the African coasts in the second half of the 19th century, enthusiasm for being photographed grew in elite African circles, especially among residents of larger cities. They frequented the photographic studios operated by photographers from Africa, Europe and elsewhere to record their modern ways of life. They assumed distinct poses; most often they looked directly at the camera. Some of their portraits appeared as postcards, then a medium that--much like newspapers today--documented many aspects of everyday life.

Africans also took up photography themselves, acquired equipment and established studios--first in the coastal regions and decades later in inland towns. Nigerian-born Herzekiah Andrew Shanu (1858-1905) was among the pioneers. He came to the Congo Free State's capital Boma as a clerk and translator in 1884 and later became a successful businessman. His photographs--depictions of Africans in and around Boma--were published in a Belgian colonial magazine. Other early African photographers still remain anonymous, but future research may reveal more information about their lives and work

Pictured above
Studio portrait of a man, Belgian Congo

Unknown photographer
c. 1930, silver gelatin print on postcard stock
Publisher unknown
Dated Léopoldville, March 10, 1935
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

Images from Central Africa || Central African Peoples through the Eyes of Western Photographers || Colonial Photography from a Present-Day Perspective || Depicting Africans || Official Images (1920-1960) || The Image World of Casimir Zagourski (1924-1944) || African Encounters with Photographers || The Kuba || The Mangbetu || The Tutsi || Photographers and their African Patrons

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