Theses Doctoral

Photography in the Colonial Congo (1885-1960)

Colard, Sandrine Germaine Marie

Historians of photography have generally represented colonial photography as a predictable and oppressive genre. Taking the Belgian Congo (1885–1960) as its subject, this dissertation argues that the medium has also been the instrument of a rapprochement between metropole and colony, not only in the hands of Europeans, but also in those of Africans, as the consequence of a long-lasting reaction against the worldwide diffusion of the so-called “Congo atrocities” pictures (1904–1908). Chapter One explores this pivotal episode in the history of photography. The exceptional violence of these images prompted the counter-development of a representational ideal—the colonie modèle—that was deployed at two historical moments: first, in the interwar period with the illustrated magazine L’Illustration Congolaise, and after World War II with the governmental photographic service InforCongo. In Chapter Two and Three, the studies of L’Ilustration Congolaise and InforCongo trace how this colonial rapprochement was encouraged by increasingly representing Congolese décor and subjects as the mirrored image of Belgium, until it peaked in the late colonialism’s concept of a “Belgian-Congolese community.” Chapters Four and Five turn to Congolese family albums and queries how Africans’ self-representations sought to integrate—or not—the model colony. Based on research carried out in Belgium and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this dissertation is the first in-depth study of a history of photography in the Congo and the first comprehensive history of photography within a single colonial regime. Similarly, this project presents the first in-depth study of African family albums, examined in the multiple aspects that make up the significance of the photographic subject’s experience. Photography in the Belgian Congo developed in three contexts: European, African and colonial, which overlap but have usually been explored separately. This dissertation aims to weave together these different aspects, fully appreciating and integrating the vivid racial tensions inherent in a colonial system, but ultimately aspiring to complicate the visual colonial relations materialized in photography by taking into consideration parameters of assimilation and collaboration, co-authorship, or again, seduction.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Strother, Zoë Sara
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 2, 2016