Friday, 18 December 2009

New Book on photography in Central Africa

bechaud Auguste Bechaud – Photographe-soldat en Afrique centrale by Didier Carite (Le Portfolio, 2009)

This is an important and interesting addition to the growing body of literature on early photography and postcards in Africa. Includes fascinating images of dress, tattooing, and body decoration among the Sango, Ngbugu, Yakoma, and other Central African peoples at the start of the C20th, along with some other more disturbing photographs such as the aftermath of an elephant hunt.

bechaud1 Young woman of the Gbanziri
bechaud2 Femmes d’europeans

I was particularly pleased to learn more about the origins of the above image because it has intrigued me as a postcard for some time. The lady on the left (click on the photo for a larger view) is wearing an especially elaborate strip woven wrapper cloth that certainly was not produced in central Africa. Last year in Basel Bernard Gardi and I disagreed about its origins – he thinks it is from Sierra Leone, where Mende and Vai weavers do produce cloths with blocks of oval cell-like float patterns as seen here. To me though, it looks like the work of Jukun or related weavers in the Benue valley of eastern Nigeria – they also wove the “cell” pattern but additionally the weft stripes framed by lines of weft floats. Either way it has clearly travelled far from its origins, providing a salutary reminder of the mobility of prestige textiles within Africa in the early colonial period.

The book should be available from or Soumbala or failing that direct from the author. Contact me for his email.

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