Africa in the Photobook

Only a small percentage of the 400 books that Ben Krewinkel has collected and featured on his website, Africa in the Photobook, are actually African. Many are historical publications, political pamphlets, or children’s books, written, photographed, and published by Europeans – including old colonial texts, which seem to obsess over hairstyles and traditions of scarification. Even the books by contemporary African photographers are mostly published in the West. As a collection that covers more than a century from 1897 to 2018, Africa in the Photobook follows the changing visual representations of the continent through the medium of the photobook – and soon it too will be transformed into a series of photobooks.

Krewinkel, a Dutch photographer, curator, and educator, is working with South African publishers Fourthwall Books on this series, and hopes to publish volume I by the end of 2019. Focusing on Africa under colonialism, it will include a long historical introduction, 40 case studies, and plenty of space to show large spreads from the books. Volume II will sketch a path from the beginnings of decolonisation in the 1950s to the late 1990s, marking the end of Apartheid and also the “re-evaluation of African photography”. Krewinkel then hopes to create a third volume, focusing on contemporary African photo books.

From Congo Safari by Marcel Isy-Schwart, 1973 © Africa in the Photobook

Some of the attitudes presented in the older books are shocking, but sadly not surprising; what is disappointing, says Krewinkel, is to see the same old stereotypes recurring in contemporary books on Africa. “I think the photographers mean well, but they still have this perception that is being copied and recycled all the time,” he observes.

For Krewinkel, the best books are the ones that take the clichés and challenge them head-on, such as Joana Choumali’s book Hââbré: The last generation, a series of portraits and personal accounts of people who undertook the ritual scarification associated with ethnic groups in West Africa. “Some people are proud, some are angry,” says Krewinkel. “It’s a nuanced story on this specific topic that deals with these European perceptions of scarification.” 

From Picnos Tshombé by Gloria Oyarzabal, 2018 © Africa in the Photobook
From Somnyama Ngonyama – Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi, 2018 © Africa in the Photobook
From Money Must Be Made by Lorenzo Vitturi, 2017 © Africa in the Photobook
From The Kaddu Wasswa Archive by Andrea Stultiens, Kaddu Wasswa John and Arthur C. Kisitu, 2011 © Africa in the Photobook
From Invisible Cities by Paul Seawright, 2007 © Africa in the Photobook
From Studio Volta Photo 1965-1985 by Sanlé Sory (published 2017) © Africa in the Photobook
On the Mines by David Goldblatt, 1973 © Africa in the Photobook
From Premier voyage d’un président de la République Française au Togo by Réne Moser, 1972 © Africa in the Photobook
From Playtime in Africa, photographs by Willis E Bell, 1960 © Africa in the Photobook
African Tribes employed on the Witwatersrand Gold Mines by L. G. Hallett and M.A.F. Helm, 1944 © Africa in the Photobook
From Notre Colonie Le Congo Belge by Anonymous, 1909 © Africa in the Photobook
Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Deputy Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.