Women and Photography in Africa: Creative Practices and Feminist Challenges

Women and Photography in Africa: Creative Practices and Feminist Challenges

Kylie Thomas writes about the book she edited together with Darren Newbury and Lorena Rizzo.


Women and Photography in Africa  is the first critical study of the role women and nonbinary photographers in Africa have played in establishing photography and photographic practices on the continent. The book attests to a rich and complex history that is increasingly being recognised.

Global interest in the history of women and photography in Africa and in the work of contemporary women and nonbinary photographers has largely been due to the work of a small number of photographers and curators, such as Aïda Muluneh, who founded the first international photography festival in East Africa – Addis Foto Fest – in 2010, which consistently includes and promotes the work of African women photographers. In 2019, Lagos Photo Festival , which launched in Nigeria in 2010, included two initiatives to support women photographers – a special project in association with UK-based Fast Forward Women in Photography, and Women Through the Lens, a mentorship programme in association with Culture at Work Africa.

Projects like the Arab Documentary Photography Program have also created space to support and showcase the work of emerging photographers in North Africa, including women photographers such as Hadeer Mahmoud and Sara Sallam (both from Egypt). Exhibitions such as The Way She Looks: A History of Female Gazes in African Portraiture, curated by Sandrine Colard at the Ryerson Image Centre in Canada in 2019, drawing on the holdings of the Artur Walther collection, bring the work of contemporary African photographers into conversation with archival representations to invite reflection not only on how African women have been seen, but how they see.

In 2019, Joana Choumali, a photographer from Ivory Coast, became the first African to win the prestigious Prix Pictet. Acclaimed South African photographer and visual activist, Zanele Muholi, has won numerous awards, and the first UK survey of their work is currently showing at the Tate Modern. These initiatives and successes reveal not only that there are large numbers of women and nonbinary photographers working across the continent, but also that the work they are making is among the most varied and exciting in contemporary photography and is beginning to find critical acclaim and attention.

Women and Photography in Africa casts light on this fascinating history, and includes chapters by Tina Barouti; Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann; Dora Carpenter-Latiri; Inês Vieira Gomes; Tessa Lewin; Biddy Partridge; Nomusa Makhubu; Jessica Williams; Anna Rocca; Marietta Kesting; Lorena Rizzo; and Tina Smith and Jenny Marsden. The individual case studies evidence photography’s multiple iterations across the continent, in North Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa, including Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone contexts; and they speak to the overall interest in refining understandings of the historical and contemporary relationship between gender and photography.

For more information about the collection and to buy copies, see the publisher’s website.

 A Selection of Images from the Book:

Figure Two: Three Ladies, Ghana, 1930s, from the Deo Gratias Studio collection.
Image Courtesy of Kate Tamakloe-Vanderpuije.

Figure Three: Maria Schiefer Chabagae with a friend (name not known), Walvis Bay.
Image Courtesy of Lorena Rizzo and the Wilhelmine Katjimune Collection 08.

Figure Four: Kewpie with her partner, Brian, in District Six. Caption
provided by Kewpie: ‘Brian and Kewpie (in their 20s) in Rutger Street,
c. early 1960s’ (AM2886/53.1, GALA Archive). Image Courtesy of GALA.

Figure Five: Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi 1984. Photograph by Biddy Partridge.
Image courtesy of Biddy Partridge.

Figure Six: White Mannequin ‘Sarah’ in various locations,  South Africa, 1980s. Photograph by Biddy Partridge.
Image Courtesy of Biddy Partridge.

Figure Seven: ‘The Mermaid’, La Goulette, Tunisia, 2011
Image Courtesy of Dora Carpenter-Latiri. Photograph by Dora Carpenter-Latiri.

Figure Eight: Raja Ben Slama, Tunis, 2014. Photograph by Dora Carpenter-Latiri.
Image courtesy of Dora Carpenter-Latiri

Figure Nine: Ke Sale Teng, animated film still by Lebohang Kganye.
Image Courtesy of Lebohang Kganye.

You are free to republish articles from the PLP site as long as you credit the author and photographers and that the material is not edited in any way. Please acknowledge the PLP as the source. CC-BY-ND, Creative Commons ~ Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/

Recommended Posts
Contact Us