The East African Photobook and the Missing Chapter – A Brief Introduction

Elsie and I met at the University of Westminster, England whilst studying for our undergraduate Bachelor of the Arts (B.A.) in Photography. As a leading university in media studies and research, we found the course stimulating and eye-opening. Born in Kenya and now living in the United Kingdom (U.K.), the dichotomy of the insider and outsider perspectives or views was surprising clear when it came to some issues of photography. Some of these include the power of photography, representation, uses and its history since
its inception in 1839. It is like a mêlée which continues to date. The photobook was invented almost since the birth of photography in 1839, when Victorian pioneers, such as Anna Atkins and William Henry Fox Talbot were starting to stick photographs into albums and books around 1843 (Gerry, 2015).  The history of photography focused on its technological progress with a general global narrative that has often neglected regions such as Africa. The university library although well-equipped with photography resources there were a few photobooks from African photographers from South, North and West Africa, however, the almost non-existence of photo books of East Africa by East African photographers was very evident.

That was something that remained with us as practising photographers from East Africa. With our combined knowledge both in practical and theories in photography, and the importance of representation, storytelling, archiving and the importance of history we decided to address the missing gap. The idea of undertaking such a project, a digital library of photos book by East African photographers was born. In recent years, there has been a focus
of attention upon the photobook where a collaboration of artists, editors and graphic designers work with images and text to produce a visual document and narrative.

As numerous scholars of visual culture have shown, photography plays a critical role in articulating people’s complex relationship to cultural identity and national belonging (Campt, 2012). Photography and Africa are not a new concept, although much attention and recorded photography history of Africa is intertwined with the anthropology, colonial and neo-colonial and western gaze, research shows professional African and black photographers
embraced the new medium to document its people and render the power of photography to document and create histories. And this marks the importance of photography archives. Creating, preserving and disseminating them, a space to do this becomes vital both online and offline. A new generation of African photographers is transforming how the continent is
viewed – disrupting the traditional ways of seeing.

“Where does and should the future of libraries lie? What was once concrete, brick, and glass structures have since become a third place where community, art, and culture reside.” (Rhodes 2014, p5). Whilst East Africa catches up with building physical libraries, it is vital now more than ever to build digital libraries. Libraries are important to the collective memory, a source of information, past and future and photobooks are an important part of that.

Ideas are not enough to produce a book – it needs hard work, dedication and funds. We understand producing photo books is not a cheap task; a lot of work goes into producing important works of photo books. Some East African photobooks already exist and we are on a mission to find them. We intend to make them available to different audiences in the hope this might inspire other artists, publishers and scholars in the current flourishing photobook
market to pay attention to the East Africa region, its artists and the important work they produce.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Badger, Gerry. “Why Photobooks are Important” Revistazum, ZUM MAGAZINE, https://revistazum.com.br/en/revista-zum-8/fotolivros/. Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

Campt, M. Tina “Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe.” Duke University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,
http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/westminster/detail.action?docID=1173014.

Helff, Sissy and Michels, Stefanie. “Global Photographies Memory – History – Archives.”2018 JSTOR, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

Rhodes Tamara. “A living, breathing revolution: How libraries can use ‘living archives’ to support, engage, and document social movements.” 2014 Sage Journal, doi:10.1177/0340035214526536. Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.


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