Daniel Foliard
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Conflicts in the lens
From the 1890s to the First World War
in The violence of colonial photography
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This chapter opens with the private photographs of a French colonial officer named Emile-Louis Abbat. An amateur, he kept a visual record of his campaigns near Ouagadougou, on the eve of the infamous Voulet-Chanoine scandal (1899). This case study underlines how the popularisation of photography shaped the visuality of colonial campaigns in late nineteenth-century Africa and Asia. From one expedition to another, soldiers, military attachés, and opportunistic local studios developed new ways to envision conflicts. Part of this new material then contaminated professional and journalistic photography, establishing new genres and perspectives on war, repression, and the use of organised violence. The chapter also emphasises that these evolutions were not linear. Several disruptive photographs had a lasting influence. As a consequence, military authorities and colonial governments eventually identified conflict photography as a crucial communication challenge. A discussion of censorship and regulations emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, precisely when colonial visual discursivities consolidated in the wake of major conflicts such as the Sudan Campaign in 1898, the second Boer War (1899–1902), or the international intervention against the so-called ‘Boxers’ in China (1899–1901). By the 1910s, a new visual repertoire of mass armed violence was in place. The work of a first generation of photojournalists, the emergence of a structured use of atrocity photographs by humanitarian movements, the intensifying discussions on the rationale of violent colonial expansion, all contributed to a reshaping of the visual economy of organised violence before 1914.

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