For this paper, I propose to take up the concept and physical space of a photographic ‘darkroom’ located in Stone Town, Zanzibar to explore a set of images from the Capital Art Studio (1930-present) collection produced by Ranchhod Oza (1907-1993), and inherited by his son Rohit Oza (1950-). I employ a concept of darkness to read this visual archive differently and propose multiple ‘other lives’ for a set of images. First, by bringing this African photography collection to light, I am taking it out of the ‘dark rooms’ of history in one sense (Hayes 2017) and exposing it for interpretation. Second, I focus my lens on the Oza physical darkroom located in the back of the studio on Kenyatta Road in Stone Town, where photographs of a range of Zanzibari persons were both developed and printed and that open up the darkroom as a place of photographic complexity and sensorium, and not just mechanical reproduction (Jansen 2018). Third, I develop darkness as a form of beauty in certain images of sky, water and skin from this archive that showcase Zanzibar’s position as an Indian Ocean island and port city whilst under rule by the Omani Sultanate (1698-1964) and British Protectorate (1890-1963). Fourth, I conceptualize the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 as a time of visual darkness, which temporarily restricted photographic practices operating in Stone Town under the new Afro-Shirazi political party. Throughout my analysis, I use a framing of ‘darkness’ to interrogate photography as an aesthetic practice deeply immersed in materialities and metaphors of dark and light, black and white, and as integral to Zanzibar’s oceanic islandness.
This lecture is part of the year-long project Oceanic Imaginations, led by Mana Kia and Debashree Mukherjee (MESAAS) and sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life. Please register at ircpl.columbia.edu/