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Photography and Photo-Elicitation after Colonialism

By Liam Buckley

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Cite As:
Buckley, Liam. 2014. “Photography and Photo-Elicitation After Colonialism”. Cultural Anthropology 29 (4), 720-43. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca29.4.07.

Abstract

In photo-elicitation studies of colonial imagery, photographs are seen as repositories of historical data. This article examines the author’s experience of photo-elicitation in the postcolonial context of The Gambia, West Africa. Here, Gambian viewers responded to the aesthetic and compositional details of colonial photographs rather than their historical content. This attention to the surface of the photograph and its aesthetic qualities suggests a disconnection or distraction from the colonial history depicted in the images. This photo-elicitation does not engage or resolve a historical relationship with the colonial past. Rather, it reveals an engagement with elements of the photograph in which the visual legacies of colonialism—identification, representation, memorialization—remain absent. The absence of acknowledged connections to the past calls into question the ability of the photograph to represent the colonial past or its subjects to the viewer. In Gambian viewers’ preoccupation with aesthetic details, the photograph becomes a crafted object, rather than a link to colonial subordination. This calls into question the efficacy of photo-elicitation to demonstrate reactions to colonialism that move beyond Eurocentric frameworks.

Keywords

photo-elicitation; colonialism; representation in photography; The Gambia