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Traces of humanity? Carl de Keyzer and Johan Lagae’s Congo Belge en Images


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Focusing on the 2010 project Congo belge en images, in which the photographer Carl de Keyzer and the historian Johan Lagae exhibited and published a selection of pictures from the colonial archives of the Tervuren museum, this article examines the shifting presence of the human in photographs of the Belgian Congo. Debates surrounding the use of photographic archives have often emphasized the necessity to recover photographs’ original meaning in order to counter their potential instrumentalization. Building on recent interventions such as Ariella Azoulay’s The Civil Contract of Photograhy (2008), this article proposes an alternative approach, in which the tension between photography’s status as historical proof and its openness to reinterpretation is in fact central to the ethical function of the medium. It is indeed through this tension, as this article shows, that Congo belge en images offers a visual reflection that moves beyond previous humanist or humanitarian discourses and interrogates our very ability to recognize the presence of the human.

Keywords: Belgium; Carl de Keyzer; Congo; Johan Lagae; animal; colonization; human; photography

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Somerville College Oxford

Publication date: February 1, 2013

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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