Photography in the Portuguese colonies (1860-1960)

Cambridge University Library has recently acquired a copy of O império da visão: fotografia no contexto colonial português (1860-1960), a volume organised by Dr. Filipa Lowndes Vicente, researcher at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS) of the University of Lisbon.

Dr. Vicente’s interest in photography started while researching Portuguese and British colonial India. Since its development in the second half of the nineteenth century, photography became a major form of visual communication and a powerful agent of social change. Recent research has shown that the study of colonialism requires photography to illustrate written sources. In the nineteenth century, photography helped increase the visibility of the colonies abroad.

Angolan woman with child. 1961. Col. F.L. Vicente

Angolan woman with child. 1961. Col. F.L. Vicente

This book is an important contribution to the study of photography in a colonial context. It contains twenty eight contributions by experts from a wide range of disciplines. The first chapter includes several articles on specific missions in the colonies, discussing the use of the colonies as laboratories to conduct scientific experiments or to serve legal or anthropological means. This section stresses the importance of photography in the consolidation of the discipline of Anthropology, which made of the colonies its ground study.

The second chapter discusses the role of photography in disseminating knowledge about the colonies.

2)Hairstyle. Cuanhamas, Angola, 1935-1939. Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino

Hairstyle. Cuanhamas, Angola, 1935-1939. Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino

Photography was used to document biological and geological research, to publicize colonial industrial developments, to foster reflection upon customs and cultural identity and to encourage travellers to document the colonies’ landscapes, peoples and culture with their photographs.

One of the contributions in this second chapter, Noeme Santana’s “Olhares britânicos: Visualizar Lourenço Marques na ótica de J. And M. Lazarus, 1899-1908” is based on the author’s research on one of the Royal Commonwealth Society photograph collections at the University Library. The collection ‘Views in Lourenço Marques’ [i.e. Maputo]” contains 32 images dated between 1895 and 1908 approximately (reference GBR/0115/Y30468S). For further details on the collection, see:

The images are available on the Digital Library at:

The last two chapters of the book explore the inter-connection of photography with other visual languages, such as cinema, lithography and illustration, and the use of photography as a tool of consolidation of power or as proof of violence during the colonial wars.

“O império da visão”, explains Filipa Vicente, is the product of the research project “Conhecimento e visão: fotografia no Arquivo e no Museu Colonial Português (1850-1950)” funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, which she herself coordinated.

Further information on the book and the project behind it, which also included a course on colonial photography, a colloquium and a film series, is available from the project’s portal at:

Sonia Morcillo

7th May 2015

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