A visual struggle for Mozambique. Revisiting narratives, interpreting photographs (1850-1930)
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‘A Visual Struggle for Mozambique. Revisiting narratives, interpreting photographs (1850 – 1930)’ is a study that requires an engagement with the historiography of the Portuguese empire, with reference to Mozambique. This is initially to provide some context for the East African situation in which photography began to feature in the mid- to late 19th century. But the other purpose is to see what impact the inclusion of visual archives has on the existing debates concerning Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique, and elsewhere. The rationale for this study, therefore, is to see what difference photographs will make to our interpretation and understanding of this past. The central issue is the ‘visual struggle’ undertaken to explore and dominate the territory of Mozambique. Deprived of their ‘historical rights’ by the requirements of the Berlin Treaties that insisted on ‘effective occupation’, the Portuguese started to employ a complex of knowledge-producing activities in which photography was crucially involved. Constituting part of the Pacification Campaigns that led to the territorial occupation, photographic translations of action taken to control the different regions in fact define the southern, central and northern regions of the country. The chapters propose ways to analyze photographs that cover issues related to different forms of knowledge construction. The resulting detail sometimes diverges from expectations associated with their archival history, such as the name of the photographers and exact dates, which are often unavailable.1 In discussing processes of memorialization, the thesis argues that memory is fragile. The notion of ellipsis is applied to enrich the potential narratives of the photographs. The thesis reads them against the grain in search of counter-narratives, underpinned by the concept of ‘visual dissonances’, which challenges the official history or stories attached to the photographs. Besides a participation in the general debates about the work of photography in particular, this research is driven by the need to find new ways to access the history of Mozambique. Ultimately the project will facilitate these photographic archives to re-enter public awareness, and help to promote critical approaches in the arts and humanities in this part of southern Africa.