Portraits of Africa, with Prof. David Zeitlyn

Ebenezer welcomed Professor David Zeitlyn with his extraordinary archive of photographs from the Cameroon.


Professor of Social Anthropology at Oxford, David Zeitlyn has been engaged in fieldwork in the Cameroon since 1985 and has collected a fabulous archive of traditional “studio” photography for the British Library Endangered Archives programme. The photographers working in the Cameroon - trained initially on big old plate cameras and overcoming shortages in material, equipment and facilities in the most ingenious ways - give us a wonderful glimpse of a complex, traditional but changing society....

Professor “Z” (as he is usually known) will mainly focus on the photographs of Jacques Toussele, from Mbouda, a small town in Cameroon, working from 1960 to 2005.

The bread and butter of his work were identity card photographs, but the incessant demand for these kept down the cost of his photography and many could afford to use his services for more recreational purposes. So the archive that Prof. Z has helped to create contains images of much of social life.

Life was hard, achievements - no matter how small- were worth celebrating, worth recording: the first trip to the capital city, the first baby. But there are also more unusual types of photos, ones that reflect different traditions from ours of what is appropriate to portray. The photographer, as a jobbing professional, would take anything he was paid to take. The photographs reveal the lives, the interests and concerns of a community.

The images will speak for themselves but context sometimes helps and Prof Z has stories to tell. He will discuss the scope & richness of the archive and talk about some of the problems encountered in its making.


David Zeitlyn

**David Zeitlyn** is a social anthropologist who has been doing research in Cameroon since 1985. Originally working on traditional religion, he has subsequently studied the sociolinguistics of family conversation, patterns of language loss in the Mambila area, and been active in efforts to archive and to research the work of Cameroonian Studio Photographers (working with the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme).

An initiate in Sua Due, he is also a qualified spider diviner. He did his doctoral research at Cambridge then had several postdocs at Oxford before joining teaching in the anthropology department at University of Kent at Canterbury where he taught for fifteen years. He returned to Oxford in 2010, where he teaches postgraduate students and indulges himself by continuing fieldwork.

2018Martin Keeley