Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890–1950 (2013) and the Victorian Dispositive. Photographic Staging and Appropriation as Practices of Anticolonial Resistance


  • Elisaveta Dvorakk



Santu Mofokeng, The Black Photo Album, visual counter-knowledge, studio photography in South Africa, dispositive, Victorian portrait photography, epistemic violence, colonial photography


This contribution discusses selected historical photographs of the research project, collection, and photobook The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890–1950 published in 2013 by Santu Mofokeng (1956–2020), both within the original context of their emergence as well as taking Mofokeng’s intention in editing the photobook into account. Furthermore, the location of the image content and its aesthetics in the colonial context of South Africa 1890–1950 and within the Victorian photographic dispositive are in the focus. The analysis of the The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890–1950 considers the Victorian photographic discourse of the late 19th century as an influential frame. This discourse entails ongoing mechanisms of epistemic violence in the visual representation of the Black community. Furthermore, the paper perceives the photographs found by Mofokeng as a material testimony of practiced anticolonial resistance. This perspective contributes productively to the critical discussion of Mofokeng’s question, if these images are “evidence of mental colonisation” or did they serve to challenge prevailing images of ‘African people’ in the ‘West’.


Article received: April 5, 2022; Article accepted: June 21, 2022; Published online: September 15, 2022; Original scholarly paper

Author Biography

Elisaveta Dvorakk

Department of Art and Visual History, Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin

Elisaveta Dvorakk is a PhD candidate at the Department of Art and Visual History and the Centre for transdisciplinary Gender Studies at Humboldt University of Berlin. She is an associate member of the Research Group Identity and Heritage at the Technical University of Berlin and the Bauhaus University Weimar. Elisaveta holds a master’s degree in Art History in Global Context with focus on Europe and America from the Free University of Berlin. She studied Art History, Theory and History of Photography, Gender Studies and Protestant Theology in Berlin, Zurich and Vienna. Her dissertation focuses on Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s photographic reports from Europe 1937-38 and political aesthetics of the documentary in Switzerland, the USA and the USSR. Elisaveta’s research and teaching interests include Critical Theory of Photography; Gender, Postcolonial and Post-Secular Theory; Aesthetics of Totalitarianisms; Visual Activism; Institutional Critique; (Post-)Digital Archiving. She is a scholarship holder of the German National Academic Foundation.


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How to Cite

Dvorakk, E. (2022). Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890–1950 (2013) and the Victorian Dispositive. Photographic Staging and Appropriation as Practices of Anticolonial Resistance. AM Journal of Art and Media Studies, (28), 105–119.



Main Topic: Rare, Bound, Cheap, Inserted – The Evolution of Photobooks