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Picturing a Colonial Past: the African photographs of Isaac Schapera

John L Comaroff, Jean Comaroff, and Deborah James| (eds)
University of Chicago Press (July 2007)

This volume presents for the first time the selected photographs of the renowned British anthropologist Isaac Schapera (1905-2003).

Taken between 1929 and 1934, largely during his earliest work among the Kgatla peoples of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), the 136 images in this selection reveal an emotional engagement and aesthetic impulse that Schapera seldom expressed in his writings. Covering a broad spectrum of daily activities, they include depictions of everything from pot making, thatching, and cattle herding to village architecture, vernacular medicine, and rainmaking ceremonies. Visually fascinating and of exceptional quality, these images capture the uniqueness of an African people in a particular time and place. They are contextualised and their significance explained in Jean and John Comaroff's insightful introduction, while Adam Kuper's illuminating biographical sketch of Schapera provides new insight into the life of the photographer. Picturing a Colonial Past reveals not only a rare side of old Botswana, but also of one of the most famous anthropologist who worked there.

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