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The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives maintains a rich visual history of Nigeria through its collection of late 19th- to early 20th-century albums, postcards, glass plate negatives, archival photographs, and color slides. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Nigeria’s existence as an amalgamated country (1914–2014), and we celebrate this history by looking at 100 years of photography in Nigeria with a special focus on African photographers. Through the archival record, the history of African photography by African photographers is now being rediscovered by researchers and scholars of African art, history, and photography.
While photography was introduced in Africa shortly after its invention in 1839, it was limited to entrepreneurs or expatriates who could afford large format cameras and equipment and had access to chemicals for the wet plate process. When dry glass plates and later roll film became available in the late 19th to early 20th century, many West Africans took up the profession of photography. Some were highly successful and profited from this new venture. Solomon Osagie Alonge was one of these early photographers; his images have not circulated outside Nigeria and are, until now, unknown to most Western audiences.
Postcards became an important commercial enterprise for local photography studios and businesses in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Early postcards from Nigeria showcased local cultures, personalities, industries, and hand-colored views of Lagos and surrounding areas. Today, these postcards preserve an important record of the work of local photographers and are critical resources in researching the histories of African photography.
A photograph of the exiled oba, possibly seated in a Calabar studio, circulated as a postcard in Africa and England.
Comptoirs Henry Dupuy and H. Sanya Freeman, photographer-in-chief to the governor of Nigeria, produced scenes of local interest, including hand-colored postcards for the souvenir and tourist markets.