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GSSC Seminar Series
04 July 2023


Colonial photography and the "critical gaze regime", using the example of German colonial photographs on Cameroon (1884-1918)

Dr. Romuald Valentin NKOUDA SOPGUI, University of Maroua, Cameroon



The talk refers to the colonial photographs of the protectorate of Cameroon produced in the context of Imperial Germany. Images of colonised people can be found in some museums and photo collections in Germany. These images bear witness to the traces of German colonial rule and document past facts and events that shape German-Cameroonian colonial memory. In many studies on colonial photography or the visualisation of African colonised people, the dominance model is at the centre of the investigations. From the perspective of the colonisers, a perception prevails that is characterised by the colonisers' own superiority and the inferiority of the colonised. The visual representation of the colonised in their seemingly "authentic" realities of life and through external features thus conveys the impression that those portrayed are "colonisable" or "administrable". My point of view is that the engagement with colonial photographs cannot be reduced to a single sense. A "critical gaze regime" engages in the analysis and deconstruction of the one-sided representation in colonial photographs. It involves examining the power relations expressed in these images and critically reflecting on photography's role as an instrument of colonisation. Critical approaches to colonial photography seek to build up the power structures they contain. Because colonial photographs are a common heritage, the example of German colonial images of Cameroon can be used to show how mutual perspectives and narratives can be established and maintained in colonial photography.

Romuald Valentin NKOUDA SOPGUI studied German literature and culture as well as communication sciences at the University of Dschang (Cameroon). PhD in General and Comparative Literature with focus on African literature at Université d'Aix-Marseille (Aix-en-Provence). Senior Lecturer at the Department of Foreign Languages, Higher Teachers' Training College, University of Maroua (Cameroon). Currently postdoctoral Fellow of the Gerda Henkel Foundation at Global South Studies Center (GSSC) of the University of Cologne.