Africa in the Photobook is a website initiated in 2015 by photographer and (photo)historian Ben Krewinkel. The website is about the changing visual representation of Africa as expressed through the medium of the photobook. By showcasing book spreads the books become partly accessible to a wider public and function as a platform for students, collectors and experts to talk about the content of the books. People can engage with each other through a Facebook page as well.
Africa in the Photobook is looking for books made by African artists or books printed in African countries, but also focusses on books made outside the continent by non-African photographers and writers. This is especially the case for books produced during the colonial era.
By showing books, the website doesn’t want to suggest to agree with the content, since many books tend to be highly propagandistic and sometimes blatant paternalistic and/or even racist.
The research and writing process for the first publication titled Africa in the Photobook; Colonial Africa 1880s-1950s is made possible by the Mondriaan Fund.
Currently Africa in the Photobook is contributing to the section dedicated to South African photobooks on the website South African History Online initiated by Afrapix photographer Omar Badsha.
In recent years a new popular genre of books on photobooks emerged. The three-volume series The Photobook: A History by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. Since the publication of this serie many books followed and could be regarded more or less as supplemental material. Many of these books focus on a particular region, for example Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and 70s (2009), The Latin American Photobook (2011), The Dutch Photobook (2012) and the yet to be published The Belgian Photobook (2019). Although The Belgian Photobook does include a chapter on Belgian photobooks on Belgian Congo, no title on African photobooks or photobook about Africa has been published up until now.
Some years ago book collector Ben Krewinkel decided to focus mainly on books made in or about Africa dealing with African subjects. In the last decade this has led to a unique collection containing more than five hundred books, among which are some very rare and historically important titles. Initially many of the books were only displayed on the website Africa in the Photobook to allow a wide audience to experience the contents of the books.
Apart from a selection of spreads and bibliographical information, the website doesn’t contain much further information.
Currently Ben Krewinkel is researching a wide selection of the displayed books, to be able to put them in a proper (art) historical context that should result in the two-volume reference work on this topic Africa in the Photobook. Both volumes deal with the changing perception of the continent as depicted in the photobook from the period 1880-1995. Therefore many books that might be considered less interesting as objects of art, will nevertheless be included just because of their historical value.
This website and collection would not have been possible without the gifts of books, interviews, tips and all other kind of support by:
Taco Hidde Bakker
Eva Maria Ocherbacher
Steven F. Joseph
Antonio B de Melo
Simon Scholte ter Horst and the people of the Zuid-Afrika Huis Amsterdam