Accepted paper:

Photographs, Polyglots and Plagiarism - The Visual Economy at Mariannhill Monastery in Natal (KZN), South Africa (1890s-1930s).


Christoph Rippe (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

By investigating layers of inspirational images from which the Catholic Missionaries of Mariannhill in South Africa drew, and the ways images were used after production, I hope to further a comparison between Catholic and Protestant missionary photography.

Paper long abstract:

Mariannhill Monastery in South Africa had its own commercial photographic studio between the 1880s and 1930s. Images were produced for the mission's propaganda periodicals, local customers, and sold to ethnographic museums. Inspiration came from European genre-painting, religious (bible) illustrations, postcards of Zulu "types", anthropological research-instructions, and maybe from Protestant colleagues. The mission's photographic archive can be roughly separated into studio photographs and field photographs, and concerning sitters into photographs of customers (white and black), (potential) African converts, as well as members of the congregation. I suggest that the only category that can be confidently called "mission(ary) photography" from an analytical perspective, are photographs depicting (or implying) the actual encounter between missionaries and (to-be) converts. If this relationship was not evident, photographs lost this "identity", once they entered commercial circuits. To make this point, I would present a detailed analysis of images, and trace the religious and visual economy initiated by the mission's photographer Br. Aegidius Müller. He not only was a professional photographer, but also a polyglot, collector of ethnographica, writer and translator. He published in the mission's periodicals, the anthropological mission journal Anthropos, and popular German magazines. Most of the missionaries spoke Zulu; but in terms of genuine ethnological knowledge production they often copied, sometimes even plagiarised textual and visual sources. By making evident pre- and post-production genre issues, I hope to contribute a basis for analysing the so far only hesitantly explored differences and similarities of Catholic- and Protestant-produced mission-imagery.

panel P16
Elements toward a theory of mission photography