Accepted paper:

An image and its audiences


Barbara Frey Näf

Paper short abstract:

The audiences of a single image taken in a Cameroonian village in the mid 1920ies are focused in time and space. Differences of interpretation by European or Cameroonian students are highly interesting, as are relations to textual information.

Paper long abstract:

The audiences as well as the interpretations of images vary in time and space. Several authors, mainly in the framework of discourse analysis and of visual anthropology have been discussing this fact. In an exemplary way, I will take up the history of the audiences of a single image. The black-and-white paper print shows the backside of a roundhouse, a small tree, a fence structure and a child sitting on the fence. In the background rectangular houses can be seen on both sides. Its original caption is: House of the great talking drum. The image was taken in the mid 1920ies by Hans Wildi, a missionary of the Basel Mission, a protestant mission society whose roots are in German-speaking Switzerland. The first audience is the one intended by the photographer and is actually hypothetical. Contemporary audiences were students of the mission education in the headquarters of Basel Mission and readers of the manifold mission publications. The period of the first use of an image often was followed by a period of oblivion and therefore of a non-audience phase. With the re-evaluation of archival holdings and new possibilities of access, new types of audiences are involved, of which scientific researchers or students of cultural history may be examples. When using this image with audiences in educational contexts in Europe and Cameroon in the course of the last 20 years its contents always did provoke highly revealing discussions, partly also depending on the inclusion or exclusion of the short textual information.

panel P16
Elements toward a theory of mission photography