Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014

(P16)

Elements toward a theory of mission photography

Location Studio
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 13:00

Convenors

Anke Schürer-Ries (Basel Mission / mission 21)  email
Barbara Frey Näf  email
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Short Abstract

The positioning of mission photography within both documentary photography and institutional photography, with particular regard to the agency of the persons and institutions involved. Special focus will be put on the relevance for anthropological research of the 19th and early 20th century.

Long Abstract

Positioning mission photography within documentary photography and institutional photography entails a critical look at the agency and the scope of action of the persons and institutions involved from both a theoretical and monographic perspective. This methodological approach can lead to a new view on the rich mission archives.

Mission archives have increasingly taken on their responsibility as important repositories of knowledge and have invested in the digital opening of their valuable holdings, especially their visual collections. Mission photography, and institutional photography in general, are marked by the fact that they are not separated from their written sources, and thus can complement each other, which may result in promising research. This does however necessitate that mission photography needs to be clearly defined, especially as mission archives do not only harbour images made by mission photographers but also by many other creators. The archive needs to be regarded in its totality and in its role in documenting the visual materials, and in the many ways of use by mission societies.

Furthermore, the role mission photography played in the developing phases of anthropology, from early anthropological research toward comparative visual research and visual anthropology, needs to be explored to identify its contribution to the discipline.

The typical mission photographer plays a central role in this dichotomy and is affected by many influences: his calling as well as his original background, his initial professional training and further interests which resulted out of the involvement with new cultures and a particular image of humanity.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Elements toward a theory of mission photography

Author: Anke Schürer-Ries (Basel Mission / mission 21) email

Short Abstract

The panel title implies a debate on what could be a theory of mission photography. The following elements will be considered: a definition toward the term mission photography, the role of missionary institutions, the role of the missionary as a photographer and the interdependency of mission and anthropology, history and art history.

Long Abstract

Mission archives and especially their photographic collections have come into focus over the past three decades, transcending from the period of closed institutional archives and of being ignored by the scientific community. Mission institutions have contributed with great efforts to the digital and general opening of the archives. However there is still a lack of theoretical debate, which may be caused by a certain polarisation between scientists and institutionally bound persons within the mission context.

In a first step we aim at clarifying the term of mission photography. Which are the necessary premises of mission photography, seen from different angles, such as production, content and audiences? Then the role of the missionary institution and the role of the mission photographer, mostly a missionary photographing, should be addressed. Furthermore, do the social biography of the images harboured in the archives give us insight to the relevance of defining mission photography? How are these influenced by the agendas of the players and archive practices? Lastly we reflect on the role of the missionary as a photographer and how contemporary cultural influences as well as convictions of the time may reflect in what may be called mission or missionary photography. The interdependency between mission, anthropology and other scientific fields offer an interesting platform for discussions toward a theory of mission.

Mission photography as a kind of epigraphy and the archive as a kind of hermeneutic space: tracing Africa's past through the photographic collection of the Spiritans' Congregation

Author: Madalina Florescu (CEBRAP) email

Short Abstract

Thinking mission photography as a kind of epigraphy and to the archive as a kind of hermeneutic space. An ethnographic account of researching early 20th century African history in the archive of the Spiritans' Congregation.

Long Abstract

"Some missionaries were photographers, others weren't. It was according to each one's personal sensitivity," explained one of the two lay archivists who for the past decade have been organizing and cataloguing the photographic archive of the Spiritans' Congregation in Chevilly. Photographs have been stored apart from documents and without anticipating their disclosure to the public. But as the early generations of photographers passed away, their photographs have become a morass of images with little or no connection to the written archive or living memory. Seeing these photographs archive as a collection 'brought together with some purposeful intent, if only for storage' (Banks and Vokes 2010, 338) is particularly useful for developing a theory of mission photography as a kind of epigraphy and of the archive as a kind of hermeneutic space.

Spiritans' were one of the main male missionary orders in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its vocation was 'the liberation of slaves' and the formation of an indigenous clergy. Like other Catholic orders, its activities were sponsored by international organizations like Propaganda Fide and the Holy Childhood Association. Most of the photographs were taken for propaganda. They belong to the characteristic missionary genre of the official depiction of the progress of Christianity and European civilisation (Geary 1991, 48). But from an anthropological perspective these photographs are also historical documents that can be used to retrieve the past from 'the other's side'. The presentation is an ethnographic account of my recent research in the Spiritans' archive.

Mission Photography Re-loaded: Openings and Challenges within the Realm of Digital Humanities

Author: Guy Thomas (mission 21 & University of Basel) email

Short Abstract

Mission photography has transgressed a revolutionary technological boundary to assume new analytic potential in anthropology and history. While hitherto firmly rooted within the realm of the ‘Colonial Library’, I explore how the use of mission photography is being diversified in the growing domain of digital humanities.

Long Abstract

Mission photography entails an ambiguous undercurrent suggesting a narrow classification of visual material within a framework of image typologies and ideologies. The task of delineating a theory of mission photography is implicitly about exploring the scope of outreach, encounters and diverse subject matter captured and circulated in varied visual formats within and beyond missionary contact zones. The broadening field of visual studies prompts us to re-orient, re-contextualise and re-focus our analytic gaze. Photographs and other visual records are critical points of reference for collective narrative strands about, and analyses of, a wide range of content. The historic production of mission photography, along with its dissemination and consumption in the digital era, assumes new meaning and relevance in relation, for example, to notions of culture, space, science and religion. The reproduction, cataloguing, diffusion and use of mission photography have evolved since the expansion of the commercial use of the internet from the early 1990s. Nowadays, we are keen to seek new avenues to promote both joint cultural heritage initiatives and, more broadly, public memory by means of enhancing the interactive use of images, both between people in different settings and by matching images with other visual and non-visual records. The paper explores modes of inserting mission photograph collections into shared real and virtual domains of social, political, religious and cultural history/ies and anthropology/ies within various networks and interest groups around the globe. The focus is on the collections and developments in the Archives of the Basel Mission / mission 21.

Photographs, Polyglots and Plagiarism - The Visual Economy at Mariannhill Monastery in Natal (KZN), South Africa (1890s-1930s).

Author: Christoph Rippe (Leiden University) email

Short Abstract

By investigating layers of inspirational images from which the Catholic Missionaries of Mariannhill in South Africa drew, and the ways images were used after production, I hope to further a comparison between Catholic and Protestant missionary photography.

Long Abstract

Mariannhill Monastery in South Africa had its own commercial photographic studio between the 1880s and 1930s. Images were produced for the mission's propaganda periodicals, local customers, and sold to ethnographic museums. Inspiration came from European genre-painting, religious (bible) illustrations, postcards of Zulu "types", anthropological research-instructions, and maybe from Protestant colleagues. The mission's photographic archive can be roughly separated into studio photographs and field photographs, and concerning sitters into photographs of customers (white and black), (potential) African converts, as well as members of the congregation.

I suggest that the only category that can be confidently called "mission(ary) photography" from an analytical perspective, are photographs depicting (or implying) the actual encounter between missionaries and (to-be) converts. If this relationship was not evident, photographs lost this "identity", once they entered commercial circuits. To make this point, I would present a detailed analysis of images, and trace the religious and visual economy initiated by the mission's photographer Br. Aegidius Müller. He not only was a professional photographer, but also a polyglot, collector of ethnographica, writer and translator. He published in the mission's periodicals, the anthropological mission journal Anthropos, and popular German magazines. Most of the missionaries spoke Zulu; but in terms of genuine ethnological knowledge production they often copied, sometimes even plagiarised textual and visual sources.

By making evident pre- and post-production genre issues, I hope to contribute a basis for analysing the so far only hesitantly explored differences and similarities of Catholic- and Protestant-produced mission-imagery.

The still-life and the photographs of Rev William Lawes

Author: Jude Philp (University of Sydney) email

Short Abstract

William Lawes was the first photographer to live in the pre-colonial villages of Port Moresby, PNG. His images record the settlement, local awareness of its impact and daily life. I examine his still-lifes, to reflect upon the documentary and missionary themes that dominate his photographic work.

Long Abstract

Rev. William Lawes of the London Missionary Society lived at Anapata from 1874. As the first photographer of the growing settlement based in so-called 'unknown New Guinea', his images were sought after by emerging anthropologists, collectors, potential colonisers and missionary societies. His photographs were largely sold through a Sydney-based studio and record the settlement, local awareness of its impact and daily life along the coastal villages. This paper addresses one group of his photographic work, the still-lifes that depict groups of objects arranged on cloth. Neither of great quality nor photographic style these images, I argue, are largely advertisements for goods that Lawes sought to sell to the growing anthropological and popular market in ethnographic arts.

Between Admiration and Repudiation: Photography, Missionaries and "Secret Societies"

Author: Nanina Guyer (University of Basel) email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at late 19th century photographs of “secret societies” in Sierra Leone taken by missionaries belonging to different institutions and puts the production, dissemination and reception of these images into historical context.

Long Abstract

William Vivian, a missionary of the United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone at the end of the 19th century, probably took the earliest known photograph of initiates of the Sande sodality or Sande "secret society", an association responsible for transforming girls into marriageable women. As with many of his contemporaries, Vivian's feelings towards "secret societies", their rituals and masks oscillated between sympathy and rejection. Some missionaries documented the Sande and other secretive associations with anthropological zeal while simultaneously perceiving them as part of "heathen" Africa. Indeed, precious photographic documents of great historical value can often be credited to missionaries. Pictures of men's and women's associations offered an appealing motif that nevertheless illustrated the need for missionary work. This paper looks at late 19th century photographs of "secret societies" taken by missionaries belonging to different institutions and puts their production, dissemination and reception into historical context. The nature of the global archive of photographs depicting "secret societies" merits special attention: While some of the most fascinating images were taken by missionaries of some churches, such images are absent in other church archives. In this respect, questions need to be asked concerning institutional policies on photography but also on the delicate subject of "secret societies."

An image and its audiences

Author: Barbara Frey Näf email

Short Abstract

The audiences of a single image taken in a Cameroonian village in the mid 1920ies are focused in time and space. Differences of interpretation by European or Cameroonian students are highly interesting, as are relations to textual information.

Long Abstract

The audiences as well as the interpretations of images vary in time and space. Several authors, mainly in the framework of discourse analysis and of visual anthropology have been discussing this fact. In an exemplary way, I will take up the history of the audiences of a single image.

The black-and-white paper print shows the backside of a roundhouse, a small tree, a fence structure and a child sitting on the fence. In the background rectangular houses can be seen on both sides. Its original caption is: House of the great talking drum. The image was taken in the mid 1920ies by Hans Wildi, a missionary of the Basel Mission, a protestant mission society whose roots are in German-speaking Switzerland.

The first audience is the one intended by the photographer and is actually hypothetical. Contemporary audiences were students of the mission education in the headquarters of Basel Mission and readers of the manifold mission publications. The period of the first use of an image often was followed by a period of oblivion and therefore of a non-audience phase. With the re-evaluation of archival holdings and new possibilities of access, new types of audiences are involved, of which scientific researchers or students of cultural history may be examples. When using this image with audiences in educational contexts in Europe and Cameroon in the course of the last 20 years its contents always did provoke highly revealing discussions, partly also depending on the inclusion or exclusion of the short textual information.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.