Jürg Schneider: Exploring the Atlantic Visualscape. A History of Photography in West and Central Africa, 1840-1890

PhD-thesis, Department of History, 2011

This dissertation is the result of long-term research work in various European and USAmerican archives focusing on the images African photographers have taken in in the second half of the 19th century. Developing and applying the heuristic tool of the Atlantic Visualscape contributed to a deeper understanding of the early history of West and Central African photography.


African photographers have been active in West and Central African since the mid 19th century. Their photographs circulated widely in space and time as well as in various media such as illustrated newspapers and books. With their work these photographers contributed to the production of an imaginary, which within the Atlantic world fuelled, reconfirmed and created ideas of African and Western identity and agency, of the Self and the Other.

Specific Objectives /Research Questions

The history of West and Central African’s appropriation of photography as a social practice and cultural technique and the further development of photography to a ubiquitous medium of representation and selffashioning needs to be studied in the framework of a wider Atlantic world and hence in the context of accelerating and increasing economic, social and political relationships on a global scale, a process commonly termed globalisation.


The concept of the Atlantic Visualscape, a simultaneously tangible and imagined space, provided the tool for analysing the rapidly changing conditions of communication, space and images, in particular photographs. Mathematically spoken the Atlantic Visualscape is the intersection of theories of globalisation (giving credit to Giddens, Appadurai, Anderson), visual culture studies and communication theory. The photographer Francis W. Joaque served as a case study to show how professional African photographers adapted and contributed to an emerging market for photographic images.


The merging of results gathered on both micro and macro levels confirmed the centrality of movements and circulations for the processes of appropriation and usage of photography in West and Central Africa.


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Patrick Harries
Dr. hc. Paul Jenkins
Dr. Christraud M. Geary

Download Poster: Exploring the Atlantic Visualscape (2012)

Keywords: Photography, Africa, History, 19th century, Atlantic Visualscape


Endangered Archives Programme: The Cameroon Press Archives

Profile: Jürg Schneider, associated researcher

Contact: juerg.schneider-at-unibas.ch