Studies of empire and imperialism have taken exciting new directions in the past two decades. Reconfiguring the dynamic created by ‘colonized’ and ‘colonizers’ has allowed scholars to emerge from the strictures once imposed by the brilliant subaltern turn of the 1990s that eschewed these once artificial binaries. Some of this new work has involved niche topics that have ended up being illustrative of other ways to interrogate the colonial exchange, such as James McHugh’s recent analysis of alcohol in empire (McHugh, 2021). The study of introspective travel diaries is another avenue. And might not what constitutes a ‘metropole’ be re-thought? Most notably, cross disciplinary research etches out new domains of inquiry. Semiotic and situational elements located in empire have been easily stirred with the dumping of Colston’s statue into Bristol harbor (Olusoga, 2021). Between 2020 and 2022 the International Council of Museums (ICOM) engaged in addressing what constitutes a museum (ICOM, 2022) as museums, amongst many other displays, began to re-position their ‘slavery exhibitions’ beyond the bounds of formal empire to also encompass legacies in the modern era (Araujo, 2020). Most significantly, Visual Studies offer a vital cross-disciplinary contribution as part of this broader fare and where much work is yet to be done. Our book will focus on this contribution and the rich theorization it attracts when applied to sites of historical inquiry about empire. As the following indicates, this perspective can adopt many imaginative forms for scholars to explore and write about.
Nearly fifty years ago, Susan Sontag in On Photography coined the phrase “photographic seeing” to describe the fact “that photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world” (Sontag, 1978). Postcolonial theorists were quick to recognize the significance of the phrase when they argued that imperialism “found sustenance” in photographic practices and that the camera was a vital tool in European colonialism (Ryan, 1997). For the Zimbabwean novelist Yvonee Wera the camera was “a dire instrument” and in Africa, as in most parts of the dispossessed, it “arrived as part of the colonial paraphernalia, together with the gun and the bible” (Cole, 2019). Following Wera, the photographer and essayist Teju Cole observed, “When we speak of ‘shooting’ with a camera, we are acknowledging the kinship of photography and violence,” (Cole, 2019). Photography saturated the imperial archive and contributed to the fantasy that it was possible to map the entire world’s knowledge (Richards, 1993). Everything had to be seen, studied, and catalogued, a task for which the camera was the perfect tool of technology (Moser, 2019). The camera was an appendage of state power, and visually collecting the lives of others involved a process of objectification. The camera “legitimated the world’s reconstruction on empire’s terms” (Azoulay, 2019). While collecting and cataloguing everything remained a fantasy, imperialism’s photographic archive nevertheless represented a form of collective colonial memory, one that perpetuated a persistent set of cultural values, perceptual concepts, and attitudes. In sum, as Ariella Azoulay documents in Potential History. Unlearning Imperialism, there was a “fatal” conjuncture between the appearance of imperialism, the emergence of evolutionary sciences, the development of photography and the growth of sites of classification and display (Azoulay, 2019).
Photographs are always inside a history (Meiselas 2012). Therefore, analysing processes of meaning making and looking at the ecologies and power relations of picturing, recording, editing, and archiving is as important as the photographs themselves (Roberts 2014). These ecologies offer insight into how empires claimed, “the right to look” (Mirzoeff 2011) and help us to uncover the processes that defined how public audiences saw, observed, and structured the world. Further, the longue durée of photography’s history seems to reveal long lasting effects: Geoff Dyer (2005) analyzed the “the ongoing moment” as an implicit order of photography and Teju Cole (2019) has persuasively argued, imperialism and colonial photographic practices both “extended themselves, with cosmetic adaptations” into the twentieth century.
We are interested in submissions which address a range of related questions about the Imperial Gaze:
- How did imperial photography shape the popular imaginary of Empire and instruct and educate?
- Was the camera in colonialized societies ever a positive force in education?
- How did gender shape the imperial gaze?
- How did photography normalize the colonial project and to what extent can we talk about the future of decolonial visual practices?
- Did the imperial gaze extend to post- or non-colonized contexts?
- Was the imperial gaze challenged when subject peoples used the camera for their own purposes?
- How have archival and museum practices projected the meaning-making of the imperial gaze?
- In our postcolonial times, is it possible to recontextualize images so that they are not permanently embedded within the imperial framework that produced them?
- Is it possible to ‘liberate’ history and museology from ‘canonized knowledge, ways of knowing, and praxis of living’ (Mignolo, 2021; Grosvenor, 2021)?
- Can we overcome the semantic force of archive descriptions and practice Azoulay’s idea of ‘civil imagination’ (2012) when we encounter the colonial photographic gaze and recognize that our political status makes us complicit as spectators?
The Editors welcome proposals for this volume on The Imperial Gaze: Practices, Representations, and Identities in the Photographic Archive which explore the questions outlined above.
Please submit a 200-250 word abstract along with a short cv to by the end of January 2023 to Professor Tim Allender (email@example.com).
About 'Appearances: Studies in Visual Research'
Tim Allender, Inés Dussel, Ian Grosvenor and Karin Priem, Series Editors
The aim of the book series Appearances: Studies in Visual Research (De Gruyter) is to initiate and encourage debates and scholarly exchanges on images and films as complex material and social objects in the humanities and social sciences. This objective will be achieved by regarding images as objects to think with, by problematizing them as signs or traces of complex entanglements with both the past and the present. Volumes already published within the series are the following: Carole Naggar. David ´CHIM´ Seymour: Searching for the Light, 1911–1956 (2022); Francisca Comas Rubí, Karin Priem, and Sara González, eds. Media Matter: Images as Presenters, Mediators, and Means of Observation (2022); Tim Allender, Inés Dussel, Ian Grosvenor and Karin Priem, eds. Appearances Matter: The Visual in Educational History (2021); Giovanna Hendel, Carole Naggar & Karin Priem, eds. They Did not Stop at Eboli: UNESCO and the Campaign against Illiteracy in a Reportage by David “Chim” Seymour and Texts by Carlo Levi (1950) (2019).