Futures Past: Africa in the Cold War Photographic Archive

Professor Darren Newbury (University of Brighton)

Wednesday 1st March, 5:30- 7pm, 2023. Room TBC

CMNH Seminar Series: Visual culture, history, and memory.

All Welcome, no need to book, just turn up. Drinks from 5pm.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, African decolonisation precipitated a contest for influence on the continent by Cold War superpowers. One response of the US government was to mount a campaign of ‘photographic diplomacy’, through the United States Information Agency (USIA). The USIA program of photographic diplomacy in Africa had several dimensions: the practice of photographing the political, cultural and educational visits of Africans to the US, which provided a space for the imagination of international cooperation and friendship; the representation of civil rights struggle for international audiences, presented as an example of democracy in action; and picturing a world of integration and racial co-existence. Many of the photographs in this Cold War, neo-colonial archive are addressed to the future, whether that is the promise of independence or the development and modernisation that US support was envisaged to guarantee. Through multiple small acts of image making the agency responded to a changed world in an effort to imagine and order the future. It offered a visual guide to a series of answers ready-made for export to the continent and an invitation for postcolonial Africans to imagine their future in American terms. This presentation is based on extensive research in this Cold War photographic archive, it introduces the USIA and its visual program for Africa and analyses the agency’s output through a selection of photographs and picture stories.

Our seminar series this year highlights work taking place in a new research area for the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories and focuses on global visual culture and its relationship with politics, history and cultural memory in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The seminar series brings together researchers exploring different methodological approaches to photography, film, the visual arts, and material culture to examine the social role and political relevance of images in everyday life. Through its different transdisciplinary topics and methodologies, the series draws attention to recurring themes around memory cultures and politics; decolonizing the photographic archive; popular images, overlooked traditions and alternative forms of art in relation to politics and life experience; histories of diaspora communities and identities; memories of conflict, trauma, resistance, political protest and activism; as well as spatial memories of the material environment.