Section Three
Africans and Photography

The Kuba (also named the Bushoong for the most influential chiefdom in the Kuba confederacy) founded a powerful state, located in the south-central part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dr. William Henry Sheppard (1865-1927), an African American missionary for the American Presbyterian Congo Mission, who later became an outspoken critic of King Léopold's regime, was the first overseas visitor to reach the kingdom's capital in 1890. The Kuba, famous for their arts, subsequently attracted many visitors, ranging from anthropologists to photographers, who sought to depict the legendary kings, the visual splendor of the royal court and important chiefs, among them Chief Ndombe of Bieeng. Casimir Zagourski, who traveled through the royal capital in the 1930s, took a classic, often-published portrait of then ruler Kot Mabiinc (ruled 1919-1939), who was paralyzed. Eliot Elisofon (1911-1973), an American photographer who worked for Life magazine, followed in Zagourski's footsteps in 1947, creating evocative portraits of Kot Mabiinc's successor, Mbop Mabiinc maMbeky (ruled 1939-1969). Photographic encounters in the capital became commonplace and orchestrated--grand performances for the cameras of the Westerners. Kuba kings used the opportunity to further the reputation of the Kuba as the foremost artists in central Africa.

Pictured above
Mbop Mabiinc maMbeky (ruled 19391969), king of the Kuba, Nsheng, Belgian Congo

Eliot Elisofon (1911-1973)
1947, silver gelatin print
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution
22923, P 5/8

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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