How to Look to the Colonial Visual Archive Today? Ethical and Political Issues of Photo Impulse Research Project

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The main goal of the research project Photo Impulse is to study the photographs and films produced during several geographical and anthropological missions to the former Portuguese colonial territories, the majority of which promoted during the fascist regime of Estado Novo (1926/1933-1974), following a policy of “scientific occupation”. These images, accompanied by an impressive amount of textual documentation, are at the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino and the majority of which have not been systematically studied in their own right. However, this study, particularly in the case of the anthropologic missions, implies giving public visibility to images that, for the most, represent the colonized natives as dominated subjects with negative connotations. This fact has been raising some political and ethical issues concerning not only the ways to perform their exhibition, but the very exhibition of these images in itself. Moreover, these anthropologic images were not meant to be exhibited, at least in a traditional exhibition. They inhabited reports and scientific texts and only these latest granted them some publicity. If we believe that we can not refuse history and that we must show these images, as we do, how can we do it without reactivating their oppressing powers towards those represented subjects? How should we, as scholars, reframe these images to make it an opportunity of criticism and of overcoming their original power/knowledge colonial matrix? How can we work in the sense of resistance? How can we deconstruct them and eliminate their former power? One of the strategies is probably the one followed by some contemporary artists (such as Vasco Araújo, Filipa César, Susana Sousa Dias): they are questioning the visual codes of representation to denaturalize their modes of representation and reveal the domination strategies underneath. They also, give voice and visibility to those former repressed. So, instead of suppressing these images from visibility, we should, on the contrary, reframe them and ideologically generate counter images able of decolonizing our contemporary visual culture. Following J.T.W. Mitchell, “showing seeing” is always an opportunity of criticism that makes apparent the ideologies of representation.
Period6 May 20198 May 2019
Event titleInternational Conference on the Counter Image
Event typeConference
Conference numberFirst
LocationLisboa, PortugalShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational