British photographic history

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Exhibition: 'Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

As documentary evidence, the photographs attest to the lives of the disenfranchised. They mark the lives of individual people as that most valuable thing, a human life. In this sense they are important. But I find this photographic documentation of Britain's imperial history of empire and expansion quite repugnant, both morally and spiritually. Where the "Sir Johns" and "Sir Roberts" are named, but the pygmies are displayed anonymously all dressed up in Western attire: "Pygmies of Central Africa."

As Caroline Molloy observes, while standing as testament to cultural diversity in the late 19th/early 20th century, "the historical colonial connotations of the photographic exhibition strategies used in the Expansion and Empire gallery cannot be ignored." The taxonomic ordering of individual sitters identified by name, status, biography, by group portraits of racial type and status. Basically a white patriarchy in which a standard of male supremacism is enforced through a variety of cultural, political, and interpersonal strategies. Super/racism.

"Colonialism is the establishment of a colony in one territory by a political power from another territory, and the subsequent maintenance, expansion, and exploitation of that colony. The term is also used to describe a set of unequal relationships between the colonial powerand the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous peoples." (Wikipedia)

Unequal relationships; exploitation; and the probing gaze of the camera to document it all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


Exhibition dates: 18th May - 11th December 2016

#colonisation #colonialism #Britishphotography #photography #documentaryphotography #BritishEmpire #partriarchy #BlackChronicles #blacklives #racism #subjugation #exoticism #minorities #identity #portraits #portraiture

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company Sir Henry Morton Stanley; Kalulu (Ndugu M’hali) 1872 Albumen carte-de-visite 3 1/2 in. x 2 1/2 in. (90 mm x 62 mm) © National Portrait Gallery, London Purchased, 1995

London Stereoscopic Company A member of the African Choir 1891 Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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