The photographic encounter: picturing difference and distinction in Metropolitan England and in early twentieth-century English travelogues
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 16:55 by Elisa DeCourcy
This dissertation examines the communicative potential and evidential authority of photographic images taken in England during the nineteenth century and those exposed by English men and women abroad, as illustrations for their travelogue publication, during the early twentieth century. It begins by charting the rise of portraiture as an industry and observes the adoption of photography as a tool for classifying people in legal, scientific and scholarly institutions throughout the Victorian period. This project is particularly concerned with how the innovation of hand-held camera technology and the expansion of photographic practice to an amateur marketplace affected the composition conventions used in photographing people and photography’s documentary currency. The dissertation takes as its case study the rise of photography as the preferred illustrative media for English authored travelogues in the opening decades of the twentieth century. The travelogue retailed as a popular genre of non-fiction, premised on documenting the excursions of English travellers who ventured beyond the tourist highways and metropolitan centres of the colonial world. These publications, produced by both men and women, encapsulate important commentaries on English national imagining as well as unique stories of cross-cultural encounter. I argue that travellers drew from the traditions from nineteenth century portrait industries as well as visual languages found in contemporary periodicals, advertising ephemera, anthropological archives and popular literature to make their encounters with ‘coloured’ peoples meaningful for their assumed, metropolitan-based reader. This project seeks to contribute to the plethora of scholarship on European travel literature produced during the last two decades which, up until this point, has under-utilised photography as part of its analysis. Moreover, it engages with the concerns of New Imperial History that, as a body of scholarship, examines the British experience of Empire as one that linked the metropole and the colonial domains in intricate and interdependent ways.