David Zeitlyn, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University, will speak at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 23 in the Carleton College Gould Library Athenaeum. Zeitlyn’s presentation, entitled “Cameroonian Studio Photography: Why I Am Obsessed,” complements the Gould Library exhibition “Staging Selves: Cameroonian Portrait Photography,” on display through June 16, 2012. The lecture, as well as access to the exhibit, is free and open to the public.
“Staging Selves” features the work of three Cameroonian studio photographers -- Joseph Chila (b. 1948), Samuel Finlak (b. 1958), and Jacques Touselle (b. 1935) – between 1970 and 1985. During this period, few cameras were owned by individuals in this West African country. Photographs were made by professionals who maintained commercial studios and also made house calls. The demand for small portrait photographs, used in identity cards, kept many studios afloat and the prices low, so that even street vendors could afford photos for official and more personal uses.
The three featured photographers, who worked in villages and small towns rather than in the capitol city of Yaoundé, represent the end of a tradition that reaches back to the invention of photography in nineteenth-century Europe. Jacques Touselle, the oldest, learned his craft using a large tripod camera and glass plate negatives. These old photographs maintain their value to Cameroonians even though the technology has been rendered obsolete by the advent of color photography in the 1980s, and by digitized identity cards. Such images, initially created for bureaucratic use in identity cards or marriage licenses, are now prized reminders of an aged or deceased relative. Some photographs appear, greatly enlarged, in memorial ceremonies knows as "Cry Dies" in Cameroonian Pidgin (Wes Kos), or 'funérailles' in Cameroonian French.
This event is sponsored by Department of Sociology and Antropology at Carleton College. The Gould Library is located off of College Street on the Carleton campus, and is also accessible via Highway 19 in Northfield. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-5487.