“Ambivalent develops a powerful and coherent set of arguments about the inherent ambiguities of photographs and photographic interpretations, in both colonial and post-colonial settings. These arguments are especially impressive in the ways in which they both draw on ‘classic’ photographic theory and engage with contemporary debates in the field of African visual studies, unsettling received wisdoms about African histories, governance, and ‘modern’ personhood.”
Richard Vokes, University of Western Australia
“Scholars interested in further understanding the ways in which photography can be used as a historical source will be inspired and motivated by the diversity of approaches within this book. While this volume is not necessarily a handbook for beginning scholars, its significance, nonetheless, lies in its critical approach and in the new questions it raises regarding the theorization of visibility, photography, and African History.”
Going beyond photography as an isolated medium to engage larger questions and interlocking forms of expression and historical analysis, Ambivalent gathers a new generation of scholars based on the continent to offer an expansive frame for thinking about questions of photography and visibility in Africa. The volume presents African relationships with photography—and with visibility more generally—in ways that engage and disrupt the easy categories and genres that have characterized the field to date. Contributors pose new questions concerning the instability of the identity photograph in South Africa; ethnographic photographs as potential history; humanitarian discourse from the perspective of photographic survivors of atrocity photojournalism; the nuanced passage from studio to screen in postcolonial digital portraiture; and the burgeoning visual activism in West Africa.
As the contributors show, photography is itself a historical subject: it involves arrangement, financing, posture, positioning, and other kinds of work that are otherwise invisible. By moving us outside the frame of the photograph itself, by refusing to accept the photograph as the last word, this book makes photography an engaging and important subject of historical investigation. Ambivalent‘s contributors bring photography into conversation with orality, travel writing, ritual, psychoanalysis, and politics, with new approaches to questions of race, time, and postcolonial and decolonial histories.
Contributors: George Emeka Agbo, Isabelle de Rezende, Jung Ran Forte, Ingrid Masondo, Phindi Mnyaka, Okechukwu Nwafor, Vilho Shigwedha, Napandulwe Shiweda, Drew Thompson
Patricia Hayes is National Research Foundation SARChI (South African Research Chairs Initiative) Chair in Visual History and Theory at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape in South Africa. She has published extensively on colonial and documentary photography in southern Africa. More info →
Gary Minkley is National Research Foundation SARChI (South African Research Chairs Initiative) Chair in Social Change in the History Department at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. Recent publications include the coauthored Unsettled History: Making South African Public Pasts. More info →
American Historical Review Roundtable, December 2021Download
Review in the Journal of African History First View, December 31, 2021Download
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Between the 1880s and the 1940s, the region known as British West Africa became a dynamic zone of literary creativity and textual experimentation. African-owned newspapers offered local writers numerous opportunities to contribute material for publication, and editors repeatedly defined the press as a vehicle to host public debates rather than simply as an organ to disseminate news or editorial ideology.
From 1952 to 1981, South Africa’s apartheid government ran an art school for the training of African art teachers at Indaleni, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal. The Art of Life in South Africa is the story of the students, teachers, art, and politics that circulated through a small school, housed in a remote former mission station.
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