Postcards from Africa
Photographers of the Colonial Era
Photographers in Africa grasped the opportunity to serve a lucrative market for images of the continent, both locally and worldwide, during the global postcard craze that peaked around 1900 and continued for several decades. Their picture postcards now contribute to understanding political, social, and cultural changes in Africa, as the rise of the new medium coincided with the expansion and consolidation of colonial rule. The cards also provide a way to reconstruct the lives and work of the photographers of European, African, and other backgrounds who created and in some cases published these images — which often survive only in postcard form.
The cards were produced for residents and travelers in Africa, as well as for buyers and collectors who had never set foot on the continent. Their depictions of colonial administrations and exploitation of resources and peoples, as well as images inscribing tribal identities, racial classifications, and disturbing objectifications of women, often reflect the colonizers’ worldview. Yet it is also possible to recover the authorship of some of the African women and men who participated in these photographic encounters, as when cards show that members of Africa’s elites recognized the power of photographic images to enhance their standing and present their own narratives.
Postcards from Africa reproduces a significant selection of rare and familiar cards — the majority drawn from the extensive Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston — accompanied by a leading scholar’s exploration of the complex stories they tell.