Other Lives of the Image

Other Lives of the Image

Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape

Retakes in Liquid Time*
In the wake of intensifying debates on decolonisation and restitution in Africa and
its francophone diaspora, a Facebook posting of 6 February 2020 gave an other life

to a photographic portrait of the French-Italian explorer Savorgnan de Brazza taken in 1882.

The uploaded digital scan of a photograph from nearly 140 years ago
flashed up in a moment of contemporary hypervisibility, offering a visual pretext to
denounce de Brazza and the effect of his interventions in Africa virtually and openly
on a public post, pulling the image out of the academic and archival environments it
had until then mostly inhabited.
Trained at the French naval academy, de Brazza undertook three expeditions to
West and Central Africa between 1878 and 1885 under the banner of anti-slavery
and supported by the Société de Géographie de Paris and powerful political patrons.
Effectively his expeditions helped to establish French territorial claims along the
Ogooué and Congo rivers, and the French colony of Congo-Brazzaville was named
after him. After his second expedition in the Congo which checked King Leopold’s
ambitions in the region, de Brazza’s public reputation soared. A number of portraits
were taken of the explorer at the renowned Nadar studio in Paris, where de Brazza
appears against a painted backdrop of the seaside.2


For more on this journal article, click here.