Archive and Research Project in the Photo Press Archives Buea

Field seminar

University of Buea, South West Region, Cameroon

12 - 26 February 2014

EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, 5 am. People trickle from the matutinal darkness into the illuminated hall looking out for display boards, their check-in desk and people they will travel with. Most of the Swiss students participating in the Archive and Research Project in the Photo Press Archives Buea already know each other but those who do not are led by some unexplainable magic to the small group which had formed. Maybe rubbing the sleep out of one’s eyes was the group’s unconsciously agreed identifying code. The travel motto read “with barely any luggage and all were well aware that they had to add cards bearing “flexibility” and “patience” to their usual travel documents. The group was heading to Cameroon and to Buea on the slopes of Mount Cameroon where during the two weeks that were planned for the research stay the yearly Mountain race would take place as well as the long awaited celebration of Anglophone Cameroons independence and reunification which was topped off by president Biya’s visit of the town. End of semester exams that took place at the same time were another factor to reckon with.  

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The Swiss group consisted of five students from the University of Basel (History, Social Anthropology, English and German Linguistics, Archeology), one freelance researcher at the African Foundation for Development Institute, London. In Buea they collaborated with eight students from the University of Buea (Gender Studies, Mass Communication & Journalism, Social Anthropology). The research and study group that had grown to 14 students in Cameroon was supervised by Dr. Jürg Schneider (Basel) with the kind support of Dr. Robert Mbe Akoko (Head of Sociology and Anthropology Department), Dr. Julius Che Tita (Head of Journalism and Mass Communication Department) and Dr. Dorothy Oben (Coordinator of the Department of Women and Gender Studies), all from Buea University.

The archive and research course focused on the Press Photo Archives in Buea where African Photography Initiatives is implementing the two-year project “Cameroon Press Photo Archives, Buea. Protection, Conservation, Access”. Indeed, since February 2013 over 40’000 photographs and negatives have been digitized as well as a number of protection and conservation measures carried out. This year will be mainly dedicated to the consolidation of the data base so that as much as possible of the available information that comes with the material can be made accessible to scholars, artists and the interested general public.

Students organized themselves in three groups dealing with the following topics: i) Representation of the abstract and non-abstract, ii) Archives as a means of constructing national identity and history and iii) The archive as provider of images for mass communication. They were asked to set up a research and time plan.

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Indeed, between February 18 and 22 the presidential couple visited Buea in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Anglophone Cameroon’s independence from Britain and its reunification with the Francophone part of Cameroon in 1961. The research groups consisting of 4 to 6 students managed to accommodate themselves with the situation. They always found alternative ways to move from the place where they lived to the university and back, succeeded in arranging interviews and meetings with a great number of people avoiding the roads blocked by hooded presidential guard and lines of black four-wheelers. They met people from the Ministry of Communication’s Regional Delegation and the adjacent National Archives, conversed with the photographers who had worked for the Delegation’s Photographic Service and who actually where the authors of the Press Archives’ images. And, of course, the groups spent a lot of time looking at the photographs, groundsheets, perusing the registration volumes and the data base and eventually discussing findings, challenges, and results.

On February 26, in the presence of Dr. Jürg Schneider, Rosario Mazuela, Robert Mbe Akoko and Dr. Julius Che Tita, the three groups presented their results in the conference hall of the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences. The presentations

  1. How do pictures capture the representation of political power during act of reunification in 1st October of 1961?
  2. West Cameroon identity as constructed and expressed through the Cameroon Press-Photo Archives Buea (CPPA) from 1961-1975
  3. The CPPA as image provider for Mass-Communication

were followed by discussions and comments from students and profs. The archive and research course formally ended with the presentation of a certificate of attendance.

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A brochure for the attention of all participants and other people involved in the course and project summarizing the course and its results is currently under preparation.

- Call for student’s application

- Seminar bibliography

- First photographer from Photo Press Archive Buea interviewed by the student Ali Pechu









The project is funded by EAP, Swiss Federal Office of Culture, ZASB and African Photography Inititatives