Decolonising the Camera by Mark Sealy

When the camera is complicit with racist ideologies

Taking and viewing pictures has never been an ‘innocent’ endeavour.  Although not an academic, I have given some thought to the negative impact of even well-meaning photographers (including myself) who can reinforce demeaning and restrictive narratives because of their own limited thinking about first and foremost who they are (culturally in time, in what society, in what position), their subject and how they are really portraying it to their intended audiance.

In 2019, I was fortunate to attend a talk by Mark Sealy at the Side Gallery in Newcastle UK  and purchased his book published by Lawrence & Wishart.  The cover image is by Rotimi Fani-Kayode Snap Shot 1987.  The book has vastly expanded my views and understanding and knowledge.  You might find its views challenging and that’s great.

In his introduction  Mark Sealy states ‘that at the centre of this book lies the proposition that it is necessary to recognise photography as an active agent of Western colonising authority at work on the body of the Other, both in the past and the present.’

Mark Sealy links his work in particular to the influence o cultural theorist, activist and professor, Stuart Hall’s  Representation Theory and to Hall’s writings on race and representation.  But he also credits many other thinkers and researchers.  His aim is to ‘locate, escalate, extract and expose the slippery, ghost-like nature of the colonial in photography’.  For example Mark Sealy revisits critically Magnum Photographer Wayne Miller’s documentary work on African Americans of the Northern States in the chapter ‘Wayne Miller:’Black Metropolis’.  

In the final chapter ‘Rights and Recognition,’ he explores the work of photographers that have ownership of their representation ( Seydou Keita, Malian Photographer ) but expresses concerns about their lack of complete independence from the very ‘colonising forces’ they have successfully freed themselves from. 

Whether you’re a photographer or not, in my view its essential reading. Be aware the book contains some graphic photos-so don’t leave it lying around young people.   Come and browse/read it in the ‘Horner Book Corner’ of CameraWork45.  Just check that I’m in.  

The ‘Horner book Corner’,in honour of Mark Horner, Felton GP who enjoyed good books and ensuing lively discussions.