British photographic history

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20th C Photo-history in Cape Town, South Africa

Hi all,

My name is Michaela and I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester doing research into the history of (medical) photography in Cape Town (South Africa) during the first half of the 20th century. I am struggling to find much literature on the introduction and development of photography in this city/country - even archival resources including journals dealing with photography during this time appear to be hard to identify and come by.

While there are online resources that indicate photographic studios from the 19th century (https://www.ancestors.co.za/photographers-of-the-19th-century-in-so...; http://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/south-african-cartomania...) as well as books on South African photographic practice during this period (The Face of the Country: A South African Family Album, 1860-1910 by Karel Schoeman is an example) few resources indicate 20th century developments/influences/histories.

As a former British colony it is my assumption that much of the photographic tradition in South Africa would have been adopted from the metropole, and that it is likely that photographic enthusiasts would have had subscriptions to European journals. However, in looking at local (ZA) journals, there are early examples in other fields (for instance, medicine) that have local publications (such as the South African Medical Journal/Record) in the 19th century. In other words, it is entirely possible that South Africa had a local arts (or even photographic) journal that might have dealt with the topic - but I am unable to identify any.

If anyone may have any knowledge of 20th century photographic studios, journals, photographers, organisations etc. pertaining South Africa (and specifically Cape Town) or any advice on how I may go about tracking this kind of information it would be incredibly appreciated if you would reply to this post.

Thank you!

 

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Hi Michaela,

There were several South African photographic journals published in the first half of the 20th century. Often these were short-lived publications which folded after a few years owing to commercial pressures. I should have a full list somewhere in my research notes - give me a little time to check and get back to you. 

Have you looked at Dr A.D. Bensusan's Silver Images: History of Photography in Africa (Harrold Timmins, 1966)? He was a medical doctor as well as a photographic historian and practitioner. Silver Images contains some information about medical applications of photography in twentieth century South Africa.

It's not about medical photography but you might find my article on Minna Keene interesting as it shines some light on photography in Cape Town in the 1900s and the 1910s: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/33371/1/Corrigall%20Image%20Text.pdf

Rory du Plessis has written on psychiatric photography in South Africa:

Plessis, Rory du. “Photographs from the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum, South Africa, 1890–1907.” Social Dynamics 40, no. 1 (2014): 12–42.

 

———“Beyond a Clinical Narrative: Casebook narratives from the Grahamstown Lunatic Asylum, c. 1890s.” Critical Arts 29, no. 1 (2015): 88–103. 

I will look through my notes and see what else I can find. Good luck - you've chosen a fascinating topic!

Best wishes,

Malcolm Corrigall

Just to add, there is a large amount of scholarship that has been done on various aspects of South African photographic history in the twentieth century that you may or may not be aware of - my previous reply is just a few suggestions, from the top of my head, of readings specifically relevant to medical photography or cape town in the early twentieth century. If you need wider recommendations please let me know. Malcolm

Hi Malcolm,

This is incredibly helpful, thank you so much! Your recommendations are right on the money and I would love to get a hold of that list... it be be a tremendous help!

I know Rory (and his work) very well - I've actually dug through some of the asylum records he uses in Cape Town's National Archives... they are amazing! He's also just overall a lovely human, which makes it so much easier to admire his work :)

I've read quite a bit on colonial photography in southern Africa, especially ethnographic images as well as struggle photography and the documentary genre in the country. But I'm not familiar with literature that engages studio photography or photographic societies that saw the genre as a recreational or artistic activity. Please if you have any sources you could recommend that would be wonderful!

You're feedback is immensely appreciated, thank you again xx


Malcolm Corrigall said:

Just to add, there is a large amount of scholarship that has been done on various aspects of South African photographic history in the twentieth century that you may or may not be aware of - my previous reply is just a few suggestions, from the top of my head, of readings specifically relevant to medical photography or cape town in the early twentieth century. If you need wider recommendations please let me know. Malcolm

Oh! And now that I think of it, Bensusan actually wrote something in the 1950s in the South African Medical Journal about Medical photography! That makes so much sense now :D



Michaela Clark said:

Hi Malcolm,

This is incredibly helpful, thank you so much! Your recommendations are right on the money and I would love to get a hold of that list... it be be a tremendous help!

I know Rory (and his work) very well - I've actually dug through some of the asylum records he uses in Cape Town's National Archives... they are amazing! He's also just overall a lovely human, which makes it so much easier to admire his work :)

I've read quite a bit on colonial photography in southern Africa, especially ethnographic images as well as struggle photography and the documentary genre in the country. But I'm not familiar with literature that engages studio photography or photographic societies that saw the genre as a recreational or artistic activity. Please if you have any sources you could recommend that would be wonderful!

You're feedback is immensely appreciated, thank you again xx


Malcolm Corrigall said:

Just to add, there is a large amount of scholarship that has been done on various aspects of South African photographic history in the twentieth century that you may or may not be aware of - my previous reply is just a few suggestions, from the top of my head, of readings specifically relevant to medical photography or cape town in the early twentieth century. If you need wider recommendations please let me know. Malcolm

Hi Michaela,

I wrote a historical overview of photographic societies in SA in the first chapter of my PhD thesis. I can email this to you.

Best,

Malcolm

Hi Michaela, I have contacted a friend of mine in Cape Town who worked for many years in medical illustration in South Africa. He is willing to be contacted by you and give whatever help he can concerning the growth and development of his speciality. His name is Hoosain Ebrahim and his email is  hmebrahim65@gmail.com. He looks forward to hearing from you. may I wish you well in your researches.

Sidney Ray

Hi Malcolm,

This would be glorious, thank you! My email is michaelaclarkba@gmail.com.

Thank you so very much for all your help!

xx

Malcolm Corrigall said:

Hi Michaela,

I wrote a historical overview of photographic societies in SA in the first chapter of my PhD thesis. I can email this to you.

Best,

Malcolm

Hi Sidney,

That is very kind of you. I will reach out to Mr Ebrahim immediately!

xx

Sidney Ray said:

Hi Michaela, I have contacted a friend of mine in Cape Town who worked for many years in medical illustration in South Africa. He is willing to be contacted by you and give whatever help he can concerning the growth and development of his speciality. His name is Hoosain Ebrahim and his email is  hmebrahim65@gmail.com. He looks forward to hearing from you. may I wish you well in your researches.

Sidney Ray

Hi Michaela, I prepared a reasonably extensive listing of South African photographers but mostly the 19th century, starting with Bensusan's list and greatly expanding it. I have an interest in British Commonwealth photography and databasing of Australian, New Zealand, British and Irish photographers. With so many other research projects on the boil, I passed my South African data to Carol Hardijzer in Pretoria to merge with his and Carol has been working on a website to feature it all. 

There was a journal "The South African Photographer". The only copy I have is from October 1900 but it is Vol. IX No. 10 so it likely dates back to the early 1890s. 

A visit to the Bensusan Museum in Jo'berg would be worth your while once the COVID 19 situation allows.

I am a doctor but don't have a particular interest in medical photography, moreso studio portrait photography. Carol is a psychologist.

It was nice to see your article on Minna Keene too Malcolm. 


Cheers! 

Marcel

Brisbane, Australia

Hi Marcel,

Thank you very much for your reply!

Carol was kind enough to get in touch with me recently and mentioned that he will be publishing this extension of Bensusan's list in a few weeks *yay!*

I will definitely follow up on 'The South African photographer' - thank you for this lead.

All the best,

Michaela

Marcel Safier said:

Hi Michaela, I prepared a reasonably extensive listing of South African photographers but mostly the 19th century, starting with Bensusan's list and greatly expanding it. I have an interest in British Commonwealth photography and databasing of Australian, New Zealand, British and Irish photographers. With so many other research projects on the boil, I passed my South African data to Carol Hardijzer in Pretoria to merge with his and Carol has been working on a website to feature it all. 

There was a journal "The South African Photographer". The only copy I have is from October 1900 but it is Vol. IX No. 10 so it likely dates back to the early 1890s. 

A visit to the Bensusan Museum in Jo'berg would be worth your while once the COVID 19 situation allows.

I am a doctor but don't have a particular interest in medical photography, moreso studio portrait photography. Carol is a psychologist.

It was nice to see your article on Minna Keene too Malcolm. 


Cheers! 

Marcel

Brisbane, Australia

Hi Sidney,

Mr Ebrahim made contact with me and has been absolutely wonderful in terms of correspondence. What a wealth of knowledge! Thank you so much for putting us in touch.

All the best,

Michaela

Sidney Ray said:

Hi Michaela, I have contacted a friend of mine in Cape Town who worked for many years in medical illustration in South Africa. He is willing to be contacted by you and give whatever help he can concerning the growth and development of his speciality. His name is Hoosain Ebrahim and his email is  hmebrahim65@gmail.com. He looks forward to hearing from you. may I wish you well in your researches.

Sidney Ray

The Chavonnes Battery museum on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront in Cape Town, has a very good collection of period photographs and engravings of Cape Town. https://www.chavonnesbattery.co.za 

Wilson

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