The Portrait and the Colonial Imaginary

Photography between France and Africa, 1900-1939

Simon Dell (Author),

Category: Art, Photography, Postcolonial Studies

Language: English

ISBN: 9789462702158

Publication date: February 26, 2020

€55.00 (including 6% VAT)

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Number of pages: 248

Size: 230 x 170 x 17 mm

Number of illustrations: 60

Illustrations and other content description:
b/w Guaranteed Peer Reviewed Content

Stock item: 133795

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Unique study of portraiture in the colonial imaginary

French colonisers of the Third Republic claimed not to oppress but to liberate, imagining they were spreading republican ideals to the colonies to make a Greater France. In this book Simon Dell explores the various roles played by portraiture in this colonial imaginary.

Anyone interested in the history of colonial Africa will have encountered innumerable portraits of African elites produced during the first half of the twentieth century, yet no book to date has focused on these ubiquitous images. Dell analyses the production and dissemination of such portraits and situates them in a complex and conflicted field of representations.

Moving between European and African perspectives, The Portrait and the Colonial Imaginary blends history with art history to provide insights into the larger processes that were transforming the French metropole and colonies during the early twentieth century.

This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

Illustrations Acknowledgements Introduction 1. Making men Citizens and subjects
A new humanity The Republican imaginary and the colonial imaginary The colonial imaginary renewed Portraits, points of view, and representation Portraits and subjectivities
2. Perception, apperception and disavowal André Gide and Marc Allégret in the Congo
Gide’s queer disposition Allégret’s apprenticeships Perceiving the African The heart of things Difference and differentiation Resistance and accommodation Allégret’s editions Missionary perceptions Civilisation, portraiture and contingency 1
3. Staging, actors and audiences The Exposition coloniale internationale in Paris
Lyautey’s project Time, portrait, patriarchy Structures of resistance and the limits of opposition Shame Roger Parry’s third space The burden of civilisation
4. Performance, appropriation and dispossession King Ibrahim Njoya and Mosé Yeyap in the Cameroon Grassfields
Extraversion and representation Njoya’s appropriations The making of Yeyap The palace and the museum Exhibition, alienation and dispossession The uses of the image of Njoya Yeyap’s arts in France
Epilogue Charles Atangana between Africa and France
Notes Sources Illustration Credits Index

Simon Dell

Simon Dell teaches in the Department of Art History and World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia.

... un livre très fouillé du professeur Simon Dell sur cinq séries de portraits photographiques entre France et Afrique (principalement le Cameroun) entre 1900 et 1939 [...] Pour chaque série, l’auteur fait une analyse argumentée, très détaillée, quasi « entomologique », des écrits et des images, naviguant entre théorie de philosophie politique et analyse iconographique détaillée.
Marc Lenot, 31 Août 2020, Lunettes Rouges

Situating his study within the move to take art history beyond Eurocentrism and into the field of world art studies, Simon Dell works persuasively across historiography, literary criticism, and, centrally, visual analysis. Drawing inspiration from Levinas’s reflection on the ethics of encounter, he foregrounds the place of the photographic medium, both in the construction of the colonial narrative and as appropriated or resisted by African leaders contending with imperial hegemony. Dell explains how its European provenance meant that the photographic portrait was never a neutral medium in the colonial context. [...] Throughout this important book, Dell’s deft, studied sequencing of visual material provides illuminating points of access to a wider historical narrative.Edward J Hughes, French Studies, December 2020,

Jeder, der sich für die Kulturgeschichte der europäischen Kolonisation interessiert, wird dieses Buch mit Gewinn lesen.Matthias Waechter, Historische Zeitschrift, 2021, Volume 312 Issue 1, DOI:

Dell offers a new and very useful analysis of the complicated interrelationship between France, African colonies, and photography during the years between 1900 and 1930—a moment when the “French empire” was at its strongest. Most importantly, he recognizes that there are many kinds of colonizing gazes, and he analyzes in depth three case studies to tease out the differences. Kim Sichel, The Journal of Modern History 2023 95:2, 474-475,

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