Section Three
Africans and Photography

Many early photographers in central Africa, especially those engaged in "type" photography, dehumanized their African subjects. They posed them in rigid ways, even requiring them to undress for images in order to depict "racial" characteristics. While force played a role in many photographic encounters, there were also situations that attested to Africans' growing understanding of the photographic process. In those instances, the photographic subject took part in the session and often subverted the photographer's intent. African leaders in particular began to exploit photography for their own purposes and increasingly played an active role. Recognizing the power of photographs to project their identity and to articulate political aspirations to the viewers, they tolerated and encouraged photography.

This section of the exhibition explores how the leaders of three different peoples accommodated Western photographers and used the frequent photographic occasions for their own ends. The Mangbetu of the northeastern Congo, the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the Kuba in the south-central part of the Congo became favorite subjects of photographers and achieved iconic status in the central African image world. When analyzing picture production among them over several decades and by different image makers, it becomes obvious that they played into the desires of Western photographers and at the same time managed to direct the photographic encounters. The photographers ultimately depended on their subjects' cooperation to obtain portraits and images of dances and royal performances.

Pictured above
Reception given by the king of Kongo for the king of Dembos, Angola

Unknown photographer
1902, postcard, collotype
Publisher unknown, c. 1905
Private Collection

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

NMAfA past exhibits