An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Publication- Photography in Africa: Ethnographic Perspectives

I have just published my latest edited collection, called 'Photography in Africa: Ethnographic Perspectives' (James Currey, 2012). Full details of the publication can be viewed at the publisher's website here, and the book can also be purchased at here (or here).

The collection includes a series of empirically rich historical and ethnographic case studies, which examine the variety of ways in which photographs are produced, circulated, and engaged with across a range of social contexts. The volume includes examples drawn from across the continent, and from each of Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone Africa. In this way, it elucidates the distinctive characteristics of all African photographic practices and cultures, vis-à-vis those of other types of 'vernacular photography' worldwide. In addition, the studies included here also develop a reflexive turn, by examining the history of academic engagement with these African photographic cultures, and by reflecting on the distinctive qualities of the ethnographic method as a means for studying such phenomena.

The volume critically engages current debates in African photography and visual anthropology. First, it extends our understanding of the variety of ways in which both colonial and post-colonial states in Africa have used photography as a means for establishing, and projecting, their authority. Second, it moves discussion of African photography away from an exclusive focus on the role of the 'the studio' and looks at the circulations through which the studios' products - the photographs themselves - later pass as artefacts of material culture. Last, it makes an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between photography and ethnographic research methods, as these have been employed in Africa.

In addition, the book pay particular attention to the fast changing nature of African photographic cultures, especially since the arrival of widespread digital imaging technologies. For example, to take my own field site of South-western Uganda, it is interesting to note that although digital technologies have only become available in significant numbers since around 2009, they have already begun to generate keen discussion, across a wide variety of social contexts. Thus, even in settings in which people are not yet entirely familiar with digital imaging technologies, people are already beginning to debate, for example, what impact pre-natal scan images will have upon concepts of personhood (in a context in which practically any reference to an unborn child is regarded as strictly taboo), what effect digital portraits will have upon exchange relations (in a context in which photographic image-objects play a significant part in many types of exchange relationships), and what impact the advent of Facebook, and other social networking sites, will have upon relations between people ‘back home’ and those now living in the Diaspora.

I recently conducted an interview about the new collection with the editor of African Griot. The interview provides further information about the volume, and some background on the genesis of the project. The full text of the interview can be viewed here.

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