Archiving a Cameroonian Photographic Studio


In 2005 the National Portrait Gallery, London exhibited the work of two Cameroonian studio photographers. This arose from my twenty year involvement as a social anthropologist working in Cameroon. One of the photographers, Joseph Chila, introduced me to Jacques Toussele who had taught him photography in the early 1960s. Together we have made several visits to Photo Jacques in Mbouda, Western Province, and I was shown the pile of boxes containing the old negatives which are the legacy of Toussele's 40 year career. The collection is an unparalleled archive of local photographic practices.

Self portait 1965

With the support of the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme, the Cameroon National archives and the British Council, Yaoundé (later closed) the negatives are being archived to enable future research to take place. The archive is a rare document of local photographic practices which, because Toussele is still working the community where they were taken, can be well documented with his assistance, thus rendering the archive considerably more important for the future than the bare collection of negatives alone. The collection will enable scholars to raise a wide range of issues about the presentation of self, changing fashions and global patterns of influence as mediated by local norms of appropriate behaviour in public.

With an apprentice mid 1960s

Mid 1960s with his family
March 2007. Photo Katie McKeown

Scenes from the studio in Mbouda

Request for assistance: who are these European visitors to Mbouda?

Publications and other outputs

Some material has been published arising from this project:
McKeown, Kathleen 2007 'Studio Photo Jacques: Documenting Lives and Making History in Rural Southwestern Cameroon', MSc African Studies University of Oxford
McKeown, Kathleen forthcoming 2010 "Studio Photo Jacques: a Professional Legacy in Rural Cameroon" History of Photography.
David Zeitlyn
2009a Archiving a Cameroonian Photographic Studio with the help of the British Library 'Endangered Archives Programme'. African Research and Documentation 165: 13-26.
2009b A dying art? Archiving photographs in Cameroon. Anthropology Today 25(4): 23-26.
Morton, Chris and Philip Grover Curators 2007/8 Studio Cameroon: the everyday photography of Toussele Jacques 11 Nov 2007 – 29 June 2008 Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford

The records copied by this project have been catalogued at the British Library as:

A short youtube clip of the filmaker Regis Talla discussing the plan for a film about Jacques Tousselé

David Zeitlyn November 2006 revised Oct 2015