The positioning of mission photography within both documentary photography and institutional photography, with particular regard to the agency of the persons and institutions involved. Special focus will be put on the relevance for anthropological research of the 19th and early 20th century.
Positioning mission photography within documentary photography and institutional photography entails a critical look at the agency and the scope of action of the persons and institutions involved from both a theoretical and monographic perspective. This methodological approach can lead to a new view on the rich mission archives. Mission archives have increasingly taken on their responsibility as important repositories of knowledge and have invested in the digital opening of their valuable holdings, especially their visual collections. Mission photography, and institutional photography in general, are marked by the fact that they are not separated from their written sources, and thus can complement each other, which may result in promising research. This does however necessitate that mission photography needs to be clearly defined, especially as mission archives do not only harbour images made by mission photographers but also by many other creators. The archive needs to be regarded in its totality and in its role in documenting the visual materials, and in the many ways of use by mission societies. Furthermore, the role mission photography played in the developing phases of anthropology, from early anthropological research toward comparative visual research and visual anthropology, needs to be explored to identify its contribution to the discipline. The typical mission photographer plays a central role in this dichotomy and is affected by many influences: his calling as well as his original background, his initial professional training and further interests which resulted out of the involvement with new cultures and a particular image of humanity.