In this roundtable forum, published in The American Historical Review (4 Jan. 2022), I convened five scholars to discuss the collected essays in Ambivalent: Photography and Visibility in African History (2019). Matthew Fox-Amato studies how powerful photographs can be as evidence when combined with other kinds of sources such as oral narratives. Referring to the essays of Patricia Hayes and Isabelle de Rezende, Marius Kothor notes how the intersection between photography and oral tradition create new ways of conceptualizing the relation between photography and time. Olga Shevchenko reflects on the ability of photography to open up discussions regarding colonial and postcolonial relationships of power, knowledge production, ethnic and political pluralism, and subjectivity that transcend the frame. Writing about the essay of Phindi Mnyaka, Zeynep Devrim Gürsel observes how we forge different perspectives from the same photograph and, in the process, unravel new analytical spaces. Finally, Sumathi Ramaswamy references the essays of Ingrid Masondo and Gary Minkley to draw attention to the use of photography as a surveillance instrument by oppressive regimes.

It was a great opportunity to engage these cutting-edge essays in a collaborative format with terrific scholars, & by doing so to reflect on powerful new ideas and voices.

View a PDF of the roundtable.


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Jennifer Tucker is a historian who studies the interrelations of art and science, photography, and mass visual culture, with a specialization in 19th to mid-20th century British, U.S., and trans-Pacific history. The common threads in her diverse research fields are the dynamics of visual media in modern history, the nature of evidence, public perceptions and practices of history, and the interrelationships of science, technology, and the law.

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