11
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III: Poetics and Politics’ at The Walther Collection Project Space, New York: Part 1

Exhibition dates: 22nd March – 18th May 2013

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

 

Undertaking research in to the work of South African photographer Ernest Cole, I wanted to know more about “South African colonial photography” pre-Apartheid. If you type the phrase into Google images there is absolutely nothing online about this historical archive. So it is a great privilege that The Walther Collection has allowed me to publish nearly 40 photographs over two postings on Art Blart. What a honour to be the first online space to promote this important historical record.

It is vital that colonial photographs such as these are visible in contemporary society for they bare witness to the conditions of the past and provide a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure – for people of all colours and races. This is particularly true for a post-colonial country such as South Africa where the history of the nation must be examined impartially no matter how painful the subject matter in order to understand how the actions of the past influence the present and will continue to be re/sighted in the future. Through continual re/citation by being present in the public sphere for all to see (not hidden away offline) these images will become a source of pride (for person, family, tribe, country) – for these were strong human beings that survived the vicissitudes of colonialism to form the history and lineage of a nation.

We must thank numerous private collectors that have saved many of these photographs from the rubbish tip when no public institution was interested in collecting them. Interesting books about the South African archive include Surviving the Lens: Photographic Studies of South and East African People, 1870-1920 by Michael Graham Stewart (2001) and Contemporary African Photography from the Walther Collection. Events of the Self, Portraiture and Social Identity by Okwui Enwezor (ed.) Göttingen, Steidl, 2010.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Caney Brothers, inscribed: 'Ordinary & Fighting Dresses.' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Caney Brothers, inscribed:
Ordinary & Fighting Dresses.
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

Henri Noyer (attr.), inscribed: 'Taisaka Spearsmen No. 2' Madagascar, early twentieth century

 

Henri Noyer (attr.), inscribed:
Taisaka Spearsmen No. 2
Madagascar, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

The Taisaka come from the South-East coast of the island of Madagascar.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Mouv, Nthaka warrior' East Africa, early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Mouv, Nthaka warrior
East Africa, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion developed out print

 

 

The Ameru had an age set system which provided the community with warriors for defence. Boys are circumcised and become Nthaka (warriors). They stay in a Gaaru and learn to defend the community and take care of their families. The warriors were called Nthaka and were isolated from the community for military training

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

J. E. Middlebrook (attr.), inscribed: 'A Zulu girl. Hair strung with beads' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

J. E. Middlebrook (South African, active 1870s-1900s) (attr.), inscribed:
A Zulu girl. Hair strung with beads
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin-silver printed-out print

 

 

The Zulu (Zulu: amaZulu) are the largest South African ethnic group, with an estimated 10-11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup. The Zulu Kingdom played a major role in South African history during the 19th and 20th centuries. Under apartheid, Zulu people were classed as third-class citizens and suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination. They remain today the most numerous ethnic group in South Africa, and now have equal rights along with all other citizens.

J. E. Middlebrook. Late 19th-century South African photographer. The flourishing diamond mines in Kimberley brought hundreds of workers and photographers to the area beginning in 1867. J. E. Middlebrook followed soon thereafter in the early 1870s, and set up his photography studio, The Premier Studio, on West Street West ; he had a second studio in Durban, “Opposite the Club.” Middlebrook photographed the landscape, farms, cities, and people of South Africa. His photographs of the Zulu people are considered to be theatrical, deliberating portraying the native people in an idyllic, romantic, and exotic light. He took photographs during the South African war (1899-1902). A number of well-known photographers were based at the studio, including C. Evans, Wunsch, Atkinson and Dyer, who documented Kimberley’s early days. By 1906, Middlebrook’s was bought by Frank Hancox and when German, Charles Seidenstucker, arrived in South Africa, he promptly became the studio’s new owner.

 

A. James Gribble, inscribed: 'Kaffer woman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

A. James Gribble (South African, 1863-1943), inscribed:
Kaffer woman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

 

The word kaffer is a word that is used widely in South Africa and is a derogatory word for a black person. Used mainly by Afrikaans people. In old Dutch it means unbeliever (in God), so should not necessarily mean black, but just unholy or non-Christian. Boers gave the name in early South African history as native Africans did not believe in Jesus. Name came after Bantu – which means the same thing, but was banned as it was discriminatory.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Zulu mothers' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Zulu mothers
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin-silver printed out print

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]' South Africa, early 1870s

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916), inscribed
Hottentott S. Africa [Portait of /A!kunta]
South Africa, early 1870s
Albumen print

 

 

The word ‘Hottentots’ was a name disparagingly used to refer to the Khoikhoi people that lived in the southern parts of the African continent as early as the 5th century AD and continued to live till the first colonists arrived in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Dutch colonists called them Hottentots. It means ‘stammerer’ in Dutch. Khoikhoi means ‘people people’. The word Hottentot is no longer used to describe the people.

 

 

The Walther Collection is pleased to announce Poetics and Politics, the third and last exhibition in the series Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive, curated by Tamar Garb. Poetics and Politics presents an extraordinary range of previously unseen vintage portraits, cartes de visite, postcards, and album pages from Southern and Eastern Africa, produced from the 1870s to the early twentieth century. The exhibition makes visible both the ideological frameworks that prevailed during the colonial period in Africa and the exceptional skill of photographers working in the studio and landscape.

The culmination of Distance and DesirePoetics and Politics offers a remarkable opportunity to view the narratives that emerge from this African photographic archive, describing in particular the experience of the studio – the curiosity between subject and photographer, the negotiations of costume and pose, and the will for self-representation. The exhibition investigates typical European depictions of Africans, from scenes in nature, to sexualised images of semi-nude models, to modern sitters posing in elaborate studios, critically addressing the politics of colonialism and the complex issues of gender and identity.

Among over 75 vintage prints, Poetics and Politics includes a selection of elegant studio portraits by Samuel Baylis Barnard, one of Cape Town’s most prominent nineteenth century photographers. Original album pages of landscapes and ethnographic imagery are displayed alongside a series of carte de visite portraits of Africans, created in the 1870s in the Diamond Fields of Kimberley, South Africa. The exhibition also features several double-sided displays of album pages, showing striking combinations of personal and stock images, and the juxtapositions of prominent figures in both African and Western contexts.

Distance and Desire is accompanied by an extensive catalogue, published by The Walther Collection and Steidl, and edited by Tamar Garb. Including twelve original essays, the catalogue offers new perspectives by contemporary artists and scholars on the African archive, reimagining its diverse histories and changing meanings. On June 8, 2013 the expanded exhibition incorporating all three parts of Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive will open at The Walther Collection in Neu-Ulm, Germany. The Walther Collection is a private non-profit foundation dedicated to researching, collecting, exhibiting, and publishing modern and contemporary photography and video art, based in Neu-Ulm, Germany and New York. Distance and Desire is part of the collection’s multi-year investigation of African photography and video.

Press release from the Walther Collection website

 

Unidentified photographe. 'Native Police' South Africa, Late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Native Police
South Africa, Late nineteenth century
Albumen print mounted on album page

 

Kimberley Studio (New Rush, Diamond Fields). 'Zulu / Warrior in skin kaross, armed with assegais' and 'Guerrier Zulu a manteau de fourrure et armé de piques' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

Kimberley Studio (New Rush, Diamond Fields), inscribed:
Zulu / Warrior in skin kaross, armed with assegais and Guerrier Zulu a manteau de fourrure et armé de piques
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

John Salmon. 'Basuto' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

John Salmon, inscribed:
Basuto
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

See Sotho people on Wikipedia

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Photograph of a woman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916)
Photograph of a woman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

 

William Moore (attr.), 'Macomo and his chief wife [Portrait of Maqoma and his wife Katyi]' South Africa, c. 1869

 

William Moore (attr.), inscribed:
Macomo and his chief wife [Portrait of Maqoma and his wife Katyi]
South Africa, c. 1869
Albumen print

 

G. F. Williams. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

G. F. Williams
Studio photograph of a man, South Africa
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Fingo swells' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Fingo swells
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

 

The Fengu (plural amaFengu) are a Bantu people; originally closely related to the Zulu people, but now often considered to have assimilated to the Xhosa people whose language they now speak. Historically they achieved considerable renown for their military ability in the frontier wars. They were previously known in English as the “Fingo” people, and they gave their name to the district of Fingoland (Mfenguland), the South West portion of the Transkei division, in the Cape Province.

 

M. Veniery. 'Choubouk' Sudan, early twentieth century

 

M. Veniery, inscribed:
Choubouk
Sudan, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printedout print mounted on card

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Bushman' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Bushman
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print

 

 

The San peoples, also known as the Bushmen, are members of various Khoe, Tuu, or Kx’a-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa, and whose territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa. In 2017, Botswana was home to approximately 63,500 San people, which is roughly 2.8% of the country’s population, making it the country with the highest population of San people. “Bushmen” is now considered derogatory by many South Africans.

 

A.C. Gomes & Son. 'Views in Zanzibar – Natives Hairdressing' Tanzania Late nineteenth century

 

A.C. Gomes & Son, inscribed:
Views in Zanzibar – Natives Hairdressing, Tanzania
Late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted to album page

 

 

A. C. Gomes established a photo studio in Zanzibar perhaps as early as 1868. He had a brief partnership with J. B. Coutinho in the 1890s. His son P. F. Gomes continued the family business in Zanzibar for many years, he died in 1932. Over those years both have left us with some marvellous images.

 

 

The Walther Collection Project Space
Suite 718, 508-526 West 26th Street
New York
Phone: +1 212 352 0683

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday from 12pm – 6pm

The Walther Collection website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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