The pornographic eye of the colonial photographer (Max Weiß, c. 1908)
|Physice and Staure|
This picture and the following were made by the German officer Max Weiß during his first tour through the interlacustrine region around 1908 . After more than a hundred years, this picture still makes me sad. Below the surface it is full of violence. In the eyes of the women you can still see the anger and fear to be exposed in such a way. Their clothes still lying on the ground. Nakedness was nothing that was their usual habit. It was produced, forced by the photographer.
Weiß, as I had said, in a previous post, was a particular violent agent of colonial rule. During his expedition he destroyed several villages and murdered dozens of Africans for a minor incident, when one of his soldiers was shot at by some locals. His reputation for violence (as well as of other Germans too) spread faster than his expedition moved. Africans were well aware that resistance and discontent with the wishes of the German could cause unforeseeable consequences.
Apart from its economical and political structures of power, colonialism was all about the unlimited control over Africans. At the spot and at the very bottom this also included the access to the bodies of Africans to pursue the phantasies, desires and perversions of the colonizers, Africa was often celebrated by Germans (as well as by other Europeans) as a promise of freedom and a space to transgress the neat borders of their bourgeois societies at home. Violence and transgressions of borders (both of European and African societies) were key elements of the colonizer's pornographic eye.
Weiß tried to hide the sexual desires underlying his pictures by building a scientific, an anthropological setting. This series of pictures is labeled as “Körperbau und Gestalt” (Physique and Stature). The women are portrayed from different angles. The pornographic eye, nevertheless, is obvious in all of his photographs. This particular mixture of a scientific/rational setting with the violence of the pornographic eye results in an Auschwitz-like imaginary.
|The usual appearance of Hima-Women|
In a time when "the West" again is in the businee to construct the "savage" Other, we should not forget that in many encounters with the Other in the 19th century, Europeans were behaving not a representants of rationality or civilisation, but, like people in interlacustrine Africa often saw it, as insane "children with big sticks".