The East African Photobook and the Missing Chapter.

By P. Wamaitha Ng’ang’a

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
around 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 focus on its technological
progress with a general global narrative 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 combine 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 works goes into producing
important works of photo books. Some East African photo books 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.