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.
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 (to be published by Fourthwall Books). 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.
The first volume, Africa in the Photobook; Colonial Africa 1890s-1950s, will include photobooks that have been published in and about ‘Colonial Africa’ and are largely carriers of the Eurocentrist colonial iconography, also distributed in popular magazines and postal cards. Although many of the photographic books from the colonial period are political, there are clear trends in graphic design and photography to be discerned. This also applies to the second volume, Africa in the Photobook; Independent Africa 1960s-1990s, that deals with photo books published in and on ‘Independent Africa’. Both books have a similar structure; a long introductory text that chronologically discusses the photobooks and places them in a wider historical context, followed by a selection of approximately 40-45 varied and well researched case studies. In addition to the scholarly texts based on historical research, four to five essays written by African experts in the field, will be included to gain more in-depth knowledge.
Africa in the Photobook will present an extensive overview but it’s scope will be roughly be delimited to two important era’s, namely Colonial Africa (1890s-1950s) and Independent Africa (1960s-1990s). The reason for this choice is quite simple; in the last decades of the 19th century the first photobooks about Africa saw the light. Without exception the viewpoint of these publications were colonial.
The 1960s saw the emergence of the first photobooks issued by Africans in the newly found nation states, but even then western photographers dominated the market. Books narrating the story of the struggle and Wars of Liberation in Algeria and Southern Africa proved to be a very important genre that only ended in the nineties of the twentieth century, with the independence of Namibia and the end of Apartheid. In addition, at this time a revaluation of African photography, mainly portrait photography, took place in the 1990s, especially in Europe, the United States and Japan. Several large exhibitions about African photography and photographers were produced, as well as many monographs that fall in the range outside the field of research.
A third volume on contemporary books, mainly books published in the 21st Century, might be added in a later phase of this project.
This website and collection would not have been possible without the gifts of books, interviews, tips and other kind of help by:
Taco Hidde Bakker
Eva Maria Ocherbacher
Steven F. Joseph