Photography and Decolonial Imagination in West Africa

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 132 illustrations, incl. 30 in color Published: February 2020

African Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Photography, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Unfixed Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial political imagination in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960. Focusing on images created by photographers based in Senegal and Benin, Bajorek draws on formal analyses of images and ethnographic fieldwork with photographers to show how photography not only reflected but also actively contributed to social and political change. The proliferation of photographic imagery—through studio portraiture, bureaucratic ID cards, political reportage and photojournalism, magazines, and more—provided the means for west Africans to express their experiences, shape public and political discourse, and reimagine their world. In delineating how west Africans' embrace of photography was associated with and helped spur the democratization of political participation and the development of labor and liberation movements, Bajorek tells a new history of photography in west Africa—one that theorizes photography's capacity for doing decolonial work.


“With intimate ethnography, urgent activism, and an intriguing mix of methodological and theoretical tools, Jennifer Bajorek presents a compelling set of arguments about photography's critical role in producing new publics with their own forms of political imagination and civic consciousness. Her book is an absolute pleasure to read and leaves readers with tantalizing possibilities for future scholarship in other sites at the reaches of the French colonial sphere.” — Elizabeth Harney, coeditor of Mapping Modernisms: Art, Indigeneity, Colonialism

“Jennifer Bajorek offers a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the transformative power of photography all while telling a compelling story packed with detail and brio. Beautifully written, highly original, and built around a core of remarkable images, Unfixed is unquestionably a major contribution.” — Christopher Pinney, author of Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs

Unfixed…moves beyond topics that are by now familiar, even canonical. Grounded in rigorous theoretical inquiry and years of in-depth research in the major cities of Senegal and Benin, the book deftly shifts the field toward new terrain. While past scholarship has been concerned with demarcating the Africanity of photography and has focused on issues of identity formation, portraiture, and the colonial gaze, Bajorek instead challenges us to pay attention to photography’s political significance to Africans.”

— Prita Meier, CAA Reviews


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jennifer Bajorek is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Visual Studies at Hampshire College and Research Associate in the VIAD Research Centre, in the Faculty of Art, Design, and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. She is also author of Counterfeit Capital: Poetic Labor and Revolutionary Irony.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii
A Note on Geography, Spelling, and Language  xiii
Preface  xvii
Acknowledgments  xix
Introduction. At Least Two Histories of Liberation  1
Part I. What Makes a Popular Photography?
1. Ça bousculait! (It Was Happening!)  41
2. Wild Circulation: Photography as Urban Media  83
3. Decolonizing Print Culture: The Example of Bingo  117
Part II. Republic of Images
4. Africanizing Political Photography  163
5. The Pleasures of State-Sponsored Photography  203
6. African Futures, Lost and Found  240
Notes  265
Bibliography  307
Index 319
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0392-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0366-3