Photographic subjects

Monarchy and visual culture in colonial Indonesia

Photographic subjects examines photography at royal celebrations during the reigns of Wilhelmina (1898–1948) and Juliana (1948–80), a period spanning the zenith and fall of Dutch rule in Indonesia. It is the first monograph in English on the Dutch monarchy and the Netherlands’ modern empire in the age of mass and amateur photography.

This book reveals how Europeans and Indigenous people used photographs taken at Queen’s Day celebrations to indicate the ritual uses of portraits of Wilhelmina and Juliana in the colonies. Such photographs were also objects of exchange across imperial networks. Photograph albums were sent as gifts by Indigenous royals in ‘snapshot diplomacy’ with the Dutch monarchy. Ordinary Indonesians sent photographs to Dutch royals in a bid for recognition and subjecthood. Professional and amateur photographers associated the Dutch queens with colonial modernity and with modes of governing difference across an empire of discontiguous territory and ethnically diverse people. The gendered and racial dimensions of Wilhelmina’s and Juliana’s engagement with their subjects emerge uniquely in photographs, which show these two women as female kings who related to their Dutch and Indigenous subjects in different visual registers.

Photographic subjects advances methods in the use of photographs for social and cultural history, reveals the entanglement of Dutch and Indonesian histories in the twentieth century, and provides a new interpretation of Wilhelmina and Juliana as imperial monarchs. The book is essential for scholars and students of colonial history, South-east Asian and Indonesian studies, and photography and visual studies.

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‘It has taken historians a generation or two to come to terms with empire. Historians who lived during the age of empires tended to put the term "imperialism" in the too-hard basket. Those who lived through the end of empire appropriately, for the main, took the side of anti-imperialist nationalists. Susie Protschky's Photographic subjects is at the forefront of new studies of imperialism. While not doubting its moral illegitimacy, she explains how the Netherlands' colony of the East Indies imagined itself in relation to the Dutch monarchy. This is a subtle and far-sighted book, analysing photography in relation to royalty in order to show how empire worked. The visual binding of the colony to the "mother" country was, as she shows, carried out through an array of imagery that celebrated devotion to the absent ruler. Peace and war, tradition and modernity provided a range of sights revealing the nature of colonial subjecthood. This is an essential book for understanding modern Indonesian history.'
Adrian Vickers, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies
University of Sydney
September 2019

‘A rich, carefully researched and innovative study of photography and monarchy in the Dutch Empire, Photographic subjects is a remarkable achievement. Protschky attends to image-making practices and the materiality of images to yield new insights into the relationship between monarchical authority, imperial rule and photography. Going beyond analyses of official portraits as props in state-sponsored spectacles, Protschky explores how people in the colonies responded to images of the queen though their own photographic practices. She presents an array of figures - colonial officials, local indigenous rulers, middle class Indo-European and Dutch colonists, Chinese associations and Javanese youth groups, among others - who posed next to the queen's portrait, took photographs of royal celebrations in the Indies, sent photographic albums as gifts to the queen, collected postcards and clippings related to the queen, and shared images commemorating royal events with distant family members in other parts of the empire. Photographs, she demonstrates, were not simply proxies for an absent queen. Rather, the queen's physical absence stimulated an array of photographic engagements with her image that cultivated affective attachments to the imperial project she embodied. Spanning a period in which photography transformed from a narrowly elite to a mass technology, Photographic subjects persuasively argues that photography played a crucial role in the formation of imperial subjects and imagined communities.'
Karen Strassler, Associate Professor, Anthropology Department, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center
September 2019

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