Accepted paper:

Elements toward a theory of mission photography


Anke Schürer-Ries (Basel Mission / mission 21)

Paper short abstract:

The panel title implies a debate on what could be a theory of mission photography. The following elements will be considered: a definition toward the term mission photography, the role of missionary institutions, the role of the missionary as a photographer and the interdependency of mission and anthropology, history and art history.

Paper long abstract:

Mission archives and especially their photographic collections have come into focus over the past three decades, transcending from the period of closed institutional archives and of being ignored by the scientific community. Mission institutions have contributed with great efforts to the digital and general opening of the archives. However there is still a lack of theoretical debate, which may be caused by a certain polarisation between scientists and institutionally bound persons within the mission context. In a first step we aim at clarifying the term of mission photography. Which are the necessary premises of mission photography, seen from different angles, such as production, content and audiences? Then the role of the missionary institution and the role of the mission photographer, mostly a missionary photographing, should be addressed. Furthermore, do the social biography of the images harboured in the archives give us insight to the relevance of defining mission photography? How are these influenced by the agendas of the players and archive practices? Lastly we reflect on the role of the missionary as a photographer and how contemporary cultural influences as well as convictions of the time may reflect in what may be called mission or missionary photography. The interdependency between mission, anthropology and other scientific fields offer an interesting platform for discussions toward a theory of mission.

panel P16
Elements toward a theory of mission photography