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Photography as a tool of the Portuguese Empire in Africa

By Marissa Kessenich

Inês Vieira Gomes (University of Lisbon) discusses her research interests in advance of her visit to the Ransom Center.

Gomes is supported by a dissertation fellowship, jointly sponsored by the Harry Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin Office of Graduate Studies.

Tell us about your research, “Photography between Portuguese and British colonial African frontiers: photograph albums in South Africa, Mozambique, and Angola (1890s–1940s).”

For my Ph.D. thesis I intend to explore how photography was used as an instrument for different ideologies, narratives, and purposes within the context of the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa between 1890 and 1940. My research project at the Harry Ransom Center focuses on photography between the Portuguese and British colonial African frontiers. These collections will enable me to pursue a more transcolonial approach, thus widening the contextualization of the primary source materials which are at the core of my thesis.


What initially drew you to this topic?

Between 2012 and 2013, I was a researcher for the project “Knowledge and Vision: Photography within the Portuguese colonial archive and museum (1850–1950).” One of the outputs of the project was the identification and the inventory of photograph collections in colonial contexts in Portuguese archives, libraries, and museums. Through my experience in the project, I saw a rich body of African photography, which allowed me to think about the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa through photography, now the main subject of my Ph.D. thesis.


Which collections at the Ransom Center are most relevant to your research?

The most relevant collections to my research are the Gernsheim Collection, with a huge collection of photograph albums, especially the ones from South Africa during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century. I also intend to use the stereograph collection, which contains photographs from South Africa, a colony neighboring the Portuguese territories Angola and Mozambique.


Why is it important that you visit the Ransom Center to work on-site with original materials?

The possibility of pursuing my research at the Harry Ransom Center will enable me to confront a wider African context of visual and written sources, and to better understand photography as a portable and reproduced object within a global context. It will also be central to understanding the context, comparing my case study with others, and going beyond a national approach.


Outside your primary research interest, are there other collection items at the Ransom Center that you hope to see?

I will be delighted to see the earliest known surviving photograph by Niépce and other photographs from the photography holdings.


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