Photography and Migration in Interwar Senegal and France

CGS Brown Bag Lecture Series
Nov 08, 2017
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
157 Burrowes

Johann Le Guelte, Penn State

Photography was a central tool of the French colonial bureaucracy. Following World War I and the massive deployment of Senegalese soldiers (tirailleurs sénégalais) to the French metropole, authorities implemented various strategies to control the movements of colonial subjects. In this talk, I will explore the politics of administrative photography (identification cards, livrets, passports etc.) in interwar Senegal and France, and its effects on intercolonial migrations. My archival research conducted in both Senegal and France and funded by CGS demonstrates that the empire relied on photography to act as a deterrent to migration. However, colonial subjects used photography in alternative ways in order to bypass and subvert new administrative restrictions.

Johann Le Guelte is a fifth-year doctoral Candidate in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at Penn State. His dissertation, Uncovering the Colonial Lens: Creation and Subversion of the French Visual Empire, explores how France, during the 1920s and 1930s, developed a visual empire as part of its colonial apparatus. During these years, the colonial state was involved to an unprecedented extent in the production and dissemination of colonial photographs, thereby fixing the stereotypical representation of the colonial other. In turn, however, he looks at photographers in French West Africa who created spaces of photographic "resistance" (a different esthétique de soi). By focusing on one colony – Senegal – he shows how the appropriation by locals of image-production created a visual counter-discourse, inviting the bodies of those under colonial rule to overturn the Western state’s perpetuation of a constructed colonial “savagery.

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