Of Sky, Water and Skin: Photographs from a Zanzibari Darkroom

Of Sky, Water and Skin: Photographs from a
Zanzibari Darkroom
- Pamila Gupta

In this article, I propose to take up the concept and physical space of a photographic
‘darkroom’ located in Stone Town, Zanzibar, to explore a set of images from the
Capital Art Studio (1930–present) collection produced by Ranchhod Oza (1907–
93), and inherited by his son Rohit Oza (1950–). I employ a concept of darkness
to read this visual archive differently and propose multiple ‘other lives’ for a set of
images. First, by bringing this African photography collection to light, I am taking
it out of the ‘dark rooms’ of history in one sense and exposing it for interpretation.
Second, I focus my lens on the Oza physical darkroom located in the back of the
studio on Kenyatta Road in Stone Town, where photographs of a range of Zanzibari
persons were both developed and printed and that open up the darkroom as a place
of photographic complexity and sensorium, and not just mechanical reproduction.
Third, I develop darkness as a form of beauty in certain images of sky, water and
skin from this archive that showcase Zanzibar’s position as an Indian Ocean island
and port city whilst under rule by the Omani Sultanate (1698–1964) and British
Protectorate (1890–1963). Fourth, I conceptualise the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964
as a time of visual darkness, which temporarily restricted photographic practices
operating in Stone Town under the new Afro-Shirazi political party. Throughout
my analysis, I use a framing of ‘darkness’ to interrogate photography as an aesthetic
practice deeply immersed in materialities and metaphors of dark and light, black and
white, and as integral to Zanzibar’s oceanic islandness.

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