Staging the Colonial-Self: Photographing Industrialised Dutch East Indies at the Turn of the 20th Century
The Politics of Art in Southeast Asia Seminar Series
This seminar will discuss the development of topical photographic genres such as outdoor portrait and factory photograph in the Dutch East Indies at the turn of the 20th century, and the role played by colony-based photographers in the formulation of colonial imagery. The significant growth of demand and clientele among the colonial elites required photographers to provide bespoke works, alongside the production of exotic ‘views and types’ of unfamiliar lands and local people for consumption by the metropole. This dynamic of demand and supply produced photographs with themes and aesthetic positions distinct from those produced for the Western market. They range from the elaborately decorated carte-de-visite, non-studio portraits, quasi-natural wilderness landscapes and quasi-documentation of the working conditions in factories. These domestic photographs offered the first insights into colonial reality. They went beyond official documentation of colonial life as well as the blunt construction of racial, cultural and geographic colonial types. Through a close reading of photographs from albums of industrialists in the Dutch East Indies, I will demonstrate how photographers materialized clientele’s economic, cultural and political aspirations in various pictorial genres, from portraits and landscapes to factory photographs in an endeavour to stage themselves as ‘colonial.’
Alexander Supartono is a photography historian and curator specialising in colonial photography. He obtained a PhD in History of Photography from the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom (2015). He lectures on photographic theories and histories at the Edinburgh Napier University and is an associate curator at Noorderlicht Photography in the Netherlands. Recent projects include The Postcolonial Photostudio (2012-2017) and From Singapore with Nature (2018). Presently he is working on a research project on Photographic Modernism in 19th century South and Southeast Asia. His publications include “Other Pictures: Vernacular (Hi)stories from the Photo Albums of Dutch Industrialists in Colonial Java (Noorderlicht, 2013), “Afterimage: Is There Such a Thing as Southeast Asian Photography” (Singapore Art Museum, 2014).