Ayana V. Jackson
How Has the Camera Been a Tool for Colonialism?

Charlotte Jansen, Elephant, September 12, 2019

"My first encounter with Ayana V. Jackson’s work was the artist’s 2013 Poverty Pornography series. Inspired by Geoff Dyer’s rumination on the history of photography in The Ongoing Moment, Jackson interrogated the way black bodies in the global south had been represented by the camera, creating a stereotype image—bodies ravaged and ruined by sickness, subjected to suffering, economic, physical and psychological. From colonial period missionaries and periodicals to images used by National Geographic or western charitable organisations, the colonial lens has assumed a dominant gaze on black bodies, pitying and distant. “It is my view that we are still suffering from that ‘framing’ of the earth and its inhabitants.”


Over the last decade, Jackson’s work has been defined to some extent by a recurrent interest in the role of photography since its first uses; the ways in which cameras have been used in the Global South to dominate and disseminate particular ideas. “My previous works acknowledge that the invention of the camera and the discipline of photography happens at the same time as the colonial experiment. Its use becomes more widespread as Europe began to dig its claws deeper into the non-West. Where word of mouth, text and drawings were more common forms of relaying who and what was seen and experienced, photography brought the remote closer and the lore more real.” She tells me. “However it is important to consider the position of the photographer, the era, notions around race, ideas of civilization, the hunger to ‘capture’ something they’d heard about. Not to mention the interests of the financiers of the photographers and/or editors of the presses that published those early photographs.”