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Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Ben Krewinkel and Africa in the Photobook


Image above from: Une vie après la mort Photographer: Georges Senga

I first came across Ben Krewinkel's work with African photobooks a few years ago when he started posting spreads on Facebook. 

What began as a trickle of photobooks on Africa became a torrent and the Africa in the Photobook website was set up (click on the countries section). It is a quite astonishing website which features photobooks from pretty much every country in Africa. 

It is also very diverse, and serves as a history of European involvement, colonialism, and control in the continent in particular. In addition to contemporary photobooks, there are books from the colonial era, books made and funded by colonial powers to convince the European world of 'civilising influences', books funded by missionary outreaches to show the 'good works' being done, books being used as elements in European pro- and anti- wars. There are books which feature the competition between colonial powers, but also between African countries, it's a rich and astonishing mix which really lays bare the ways in which photography served anthropology, colonialism, and scientific racism. 

Then there are the books that come after independence, books where that serve the purpose of showing the new confidence and prosperity of decolonialisation, that show infrastructure and social development. 

As Africa becomes the site of superpower proxy wars, there are books that take on an ideological edge, that serve an audience in the USA or the Soviet Bloc, there are books that read like a cult of personality, with influences from Chinese or North Korean propaganda books. And here the family resemblances become weird as design choices and layouts are disseminated through ideological state gifts that pass between leaders and ministries and delegations. 

What is interesting is the way in which photography serves functions (anthropology, the mission, development) that provides a visual element to ideological and political change. So you get political books, protest books, and propaganda books coming from multiple perspectives which will connect both to wider traditions of protest, but also have their own (in the colonial versions shown here) family resemblances.

What is also interesting is who produced these and who didn't (the British didn't in great numbers for some reason) and also the ways in which colonial voices and themes are replicated throughout the photobook history both through expected channels and through less expected channels. 

This whole project began as a labour of love by Ben Krewinkel (a white European who wonders exactly how come he comes to do this thing), something that deepened as it went on, something that was mostly self-funded (most of the books in this collection are not expensive items), but that will end with exhibtions and a volume published by Delpire next year that will include multiple perspectives that go beyond the predominantly European voice, bringing in the new ideas and reimaginings that can come into being as with George Senga's book on Patrice Lumumba, Une vie après la mort.

These are some of the things Ben Krewinkel will talk about in his RPS lecture on April 14th, all things to do with the African photobook, with initiating and pursuing and transforming a personal project into a major published and exhibited survey that ties to global histories, personal visions, rampant injustice, and the visual rationalisations that were used to uphold it. 

See Africa in the Photobook here.

This is the brief for Ben's talk. To sign up or get more information, go the RPS Site.

1.    Africa in the Photobook - Ben Krewinkel

In this talk Ben will examine the history of the photobook in Africa over the last 150 years. He will examine the role photography played in upholding colonial power in Africa, in missionary schools, in the independence movement, to the present day. The production, purpose, and audience of photobooks that include propaganda, personality cult, and protest books will also be examined. 

1.Wednesday 3rd March – Exhibiting Photography – Hannah Watson

2. Wednesday 10th March – Curating Photography - Susan Bright

3. Wednesday 17th March – Cultural, political and personal identity in Mexican and Latin American photography - Ana Casas Broda

4. Wednesday 24th March – Flora, Photography, Illustration - Gem Toes Crichton

5. Wednesday 31st March – Collaboration and Queerness - Anthony Luvera

6. Wednesday 7th April – The archive in photography – Candice Jansen

7. Wednesday 14th April – Africa in the Photobook - Ben Krewinkel

8. Wednesday 21st April – Establishing a Photo Festival - Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati

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