I'm looking forward to running another series of lectures at the RPS on history and theory (more details are here). It's a great course if you're looking for an introduction to photographic history and theory or you've been away from studying and miss it.
The images are from one of the lectures on the last course on Africa in the Photobook. This is a phenomenal website run by Ben Krewinkel on which there are photobooks that exemplify the power of photography to dominate peoples and influence opinion.
The first image above is from Africa Occidental and came around the time of the Berlin Conference. It shows a flag on the bank of a river near Mozambique. It was pictures like this that helped determine the border of present-day Mozambique. It's the hinterland doctrine - if you planted your flag, you had a claim. And there's the photograph to prove it. That is the basic way photography works and that's what you see over and over in the books Krewinkel presented.
There are books of conflict, the above shows pictures of Italian atrocities in the conquest of Libya. But you can see Brits burning villages, or other Europeans using natives from other countries as the final years of land-grabbing and colonisation took place.
And then as independence gathered pace, unsympathetic reportage begins to show the avowedly racitst nature of white presence in Africa, in South Africa in particular.
There is celebration as colonial flags come down, and independent flags go up.
And there are new presidents, new nations, and new forms of progress.
Again, in the image above and below, it's black doctors and nurses, a salve to the belittlement by absence of representation of the colonial years when white doctors would be shown saving black babies (and that is still the trope that raises the money in British fund-raising).
There is still a kind of internalised colonial rule as very few African photographers get mentioned (and you can look at the examples in Africa in the Photobook and see how rarely African photographers are mentioned in some countries).
There are political crossovers, as different visual influences come to play. There are socialist influences with some of these photographers mentioned above trained by Czech photographers.
And then you get (just as you did with the missionary books) before and after pictures. Before colonialism and after colonialism.
And as photobooks are given out as gifts, there come to be family resemblances between the photobooks made in different countries.
Key tropes develop and are used for multiple ends. So here images of hair are seen as a representation of independence from European beauty standards.
But at the same time, in other places, how you wore your hair could also be used as a system of control, with hair length or style used to police the behaviour of people (and maybe that should read women).
An Africa in the Photobook publication with contributions from African photographers and academics was in the pipeline, but now might be on ice. I do hope it comes along because there was nothing quite as concrete as the example of how photography and its absence can be used to control, influence, and demean.