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09 March 2012


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Looking forward to part 2

Thank you for this, for breaking it down piecemeal so we can establish and see the links thought history, and cultures. This especially needs to be reiterated when so often the entirety of "The Dark Continent" cannot even be distinguished from a single country, or region.

Also, the direct correlation between the legacy of European colonialism and the continuing brutality that exists in many of those same areas of Africa to this day cannot be stressed enough. The relation between abuser and victim is now well established and documented, we know that the latter often come to emulate and repeat the former's deviant behavior. It happens both on an individual, and collective basis.

Thank you. I posted this on twitter. Hope many people read and reflect.

Definitely a great intro to some of the misconceptions of "Africa".

Also looking forward to part 2

Can highly recommend anyone interested in this subject to read 'Silences in African History' by Jaques Depelchin


That's not a medallion.
Take the trouble to call things by their right names.

Yes, unfortunately in this modern day and age stereotypes are still being perpetuated by various popular means. One of these is my pet hate in the form of a Christmas song which makes it's way into the charts every year. If you listen to "Do they know it's Christmas" the continent of Africa and its people sound weak and pathetic which anyone who has travelled to some of the African powerhouses such as South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, Kenya, etc. knows is not true.

Great post.
As a photographer, specially interesting because of the analysis of the photographic image.

Thank you for the relevant information the way it's written and arranged (links and pictures and a very helpful introduction to the subject). I also appreciate both sides (and others, if more) being exposed so the reader can reason with him/herself about the issues. Also looking forward to part 2.

I've always fallen into the "a broken place of collapse, death, and decay" camp, I'm afraid. I am eager to learn why I'm wrong, but this article doesn't get around to addressing that. All I see is poverty and suffering, and terrible injustices perpetrated by powerful and racist white men. I've never really ever seen any other side to Africa in the news. Maybe in one of the sequels to this article?

Hello, Nick.

"I've never really ever seen any other side to Africa in the news. Maybe in one of the sequels to this article?"

A very good suggestion. Yes, I plan to devote the final post in this series to looking at photographers and writers who have moved beyond stereotypes.

I've reworded the final part of the post to reflect this.

I read this with great interest. I was born and grew up in Tanganyika - being there for 16 years till 1964. My father (Nyasaland born of white parentage) worked for the British Government - first as a District Officer, then a District Commissioner and finally in Zanzibar as it worked towards independence. The issues addressed in your post are indeed complex. Africa in the mind of the West is stereotyped. I would like to make the point that much (good) hard work was done at the ground level by people such as my father, working to improve health care, roads and education in often dangerous circumstances. I can send you some interesting photos taken in the 1950s in the Pare Mountains of Northern Tanzania. I look forward to your next posts. Regards Anne


I've been reading this board for quite a long time. Recently, firefox tries to stop me from visiting - it says that this website is infected.

Can you do something about it?

Thanks in advance

Hello, zbigpigula.

I'm glad to hear that you're a long-time reader.

I'm not sure why Firefox is saying that this site is infected. It's hosted by Typepad, as you know. It get a clean bill of health from my version of Firefox, my anti-virus software, and Web of Trust. I'll look into it.

Professor Mason-

As someone who has taught courses on the politics of the image, I very much appreciate your point that "every photo must -- must! -- be read in the fullest context possible." And I understand that the boundaries of a piece such as this necessarily impose limits on what you can and cannot include. But in selecting images to prove a point, doesn't one risk reproducing the very same logic that leads to the stereotypes she seeks to critique?

By selecting 'representative' images of stereotypes, one risks missing the fuller context of a photographer's body of work--a context absolutely necessary to understanding the single image in itself (if a single image can be understood in itself at all, which I'd suggest be put up for debate!).

I've had a great deal of success teaching a course based in part around recent work that Brendan Bannon has done, in a project he and journalist Mike Pflanz called "Daily Dispatches" (http://brendanbannon.com/wp/). Every day for the duration of a month, Bannon and Pflanz planned, shot, and wrote a photo-essay in Nairobi, including multiple photographs and interviews as part of each dispatch. These were then sent, daily, to an array of US colleges and galleries, which installed broadsheets from the project in public spaces.

My students participated in the project by posting to the project's web-page, and emailing Bannon and Pflanz with both suggestions for future dispatches and interview questions for their own final projects in my class. Having read, among other theoretical texts, Benjamin's essay on the work of art (with its attention to photography), my students were particularly attuned to questions of context--not only of the image's composition, but -also- its eventual reception.

From my perspective as instructor, the most interesting results from this assignment were the students' eventual interrogation of their own position as recipients of these images, as well as the relationship between these images--beamed across the Atlantic and then installed in a campus building--and the scattershot news-media making use of the very same structures of transmission to markedly different effect.

I hope in future posts you might be able to examine the truly remarkable (and exhausting!) work that Bannon and Pflanz did for their recent collaboration. Unlike the MSF contract work, which as you point out is essentially fundraising work, the Daily Dispatches project is an interrogation of the image itself, and thus offers a crucial, contextualizing addition to this discussion.

Do you mean to deny that Africa is "a place where dangerous diseases and even more dangerous men wreak havoc"?

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