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Series: Early Photography
04. Advent of the Camera in Ethiopia
Having looked, in recent weeks, at photography in Ethiopia in the nineteenth century, we turn now to the twentieth century.
The Opening Years of the Twentieth Century
The opening years of the Twentieth Century witnessed the advent of increasing numbers of photographer-travellers.
Hugues Le Roux
A Frenchman Hugues Le Roux, who made his way westwards to Wallaga in 1900-1, took pictures showing architectural developments in the principal towns, besides informative pictures of the everyday life of the people, and published them in Menelik et nous (Paris, 1902).
A French Camera
In his preface he draws attention, as a good Frenchman, to the fact that the camera he used was French, a verascope Richard, and declares his utmost admiration for the engineer who had constructed it. It was, he adds, an instrument of “unique precision”, which had enabled him to present the French Government, geographical societies, chambers of commerce, and indeed the whole of France, with a hitherto unknown image of the “real” Abyssinia.
A British Nobleman, and a Medical Officer
A British nobleman, Lord Hindlip, who explored the Rift Valley in 1902, reproduced photographs of the area taken by himself and his wife in Sport and Travel (London, 1906). His compatriot, Arthur John Hayes, a medical officer in Egypt, who travelled around Lake Tana in 1903, took a variety of unusual pictures, including a market scene on the peninsula of Zege, a child suffering from leprosy, persons crossing the lake on a tankwa, or old-style papyrus boat, and beautiful frescoes from the lake-side church at Qorata. Emphasising the fascination which the camera evoked in the Ethiopian countryside he reported, in The Source of the Blue Nile (London, 1905), that crowds gathered around him to look at his instrument which was still “an unknown marvel”.
Two French scientific missions also arrived in the early years of the century. The first, led by Vicomte Robert du Bourg de Bozas, visited the southerly provinces of Bal Arussi, Gurag; and Sidama in 1901-2, and took photographs, largely of “ethnic types”, which were published in the mission’s memoirs, De la mer rouge ; l’Atlantique (Paris, 1906).
The second mission, headed by Jean Duchesne-Fournet, journeyed westwards to Gojjam and Wallaga in 1901-3, and also took numerous pictures. Some, illustrating the varied costumes worn by different sections of the population, were reproduced in Duchesne-Fournet’s posthumously produced Mission en Ethiopie (Paris, 1909). This two-volume work also contains photographs of an extensive collection of Ethiopian noblemen’s seals. Three albums and over 900 photographs taken by the mission are preserved by the Socit de Geographie in Paris.
A German Professor
A German professor, Dr Emil Christian Dagobert Schoenfeld, who made a rapid trip through the Italian colony of Eritrea in 1903, meanwhile took several excellent photographs including pictures of the old Egyptian palace at the port of Massawa, the crowded “native market” at Asmara, and newly constructed Italian buildings at Ginda and Karan, and published them in Erythra und der gyptische Sudan (Berlin. 1904).
Several diplomatic and military missions also made their appearance in Addis Ababa in these years which coincided with the hey-day of Menilek’s power. The first embassy from the United States visited the country in 1903-4. Its leader, Robert Peet Skinner, reproduced many remarkable photographs in Abyssinia of To-day (London, 1906). They included one of the venerable Emperor seated on his throne, the stout Empress Taytu with one of her grandsons, a long line of artillery captured from the Italians at Adwa, eucalyptus trees newly introduced from Australia, plantations of coffee, by then increasingly a major export commodity, the traditional and to foreign eyes unfamiliar dance of the Ethiopian clergy, and, predictably, members of the American mission resplendent in their uniforms.
The British against the “Mad Mullah” of Somaliland
A small British military team also came in 1903-4 to serve with Ethiopian forces operating against Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah, the so-called Mad Mullah of Somaliland. It took interesting photographs of Menilek’s soldiers, then beginning to be trained on modern lines, as well as views of Harar and the Ogaden, which were published by two members of the group, Major James Willes Jennings and Dr Christopher Addison in With the Abyssinians in Somaliland (London, 1905).
This and later campaigns against the Mullah were photographed in some detail, and led to the publication of pictures of the fighting, and of the Somali leader’s impressive encampment at Tal, in Douglas Jardine’s Mad Mullah of Somaliland (London, 1923), and, much later ,in Ray Beachey’s The Warrior Mullah. The Horn of Africa Aflame 1892-1920 (London, 1990).
The German Mission
The first German mission to Ethiopia arrived in 1905, and returned home by way of Gondar and Aksum. It took excellent photographs of these historic cities, and of the murals in their churches, besides others of crowds of citizens, bands of warriors, contemporary Ethiopian paintings, and such ethnographic objects as musical instruments and jewellery. Some of these pictures appeared in Felix Rosen’s Eine deutsche Gesandtschaft in Abessinien (Leipzig, 1907). Other photographs of the same areas were taken by another German, Dr Hans Vollbrecht, who published them in his Im Reiches des Negus Negesti Menelik II (Stuttgart, Berlin and Leipzig, 1906).
Even More Interesting…
Even more interesting was the German archaeological mission led by the renowned Ethiopicist Enno Littmann, which carried out extensive research in northern Ethiopia in 1905-6.
Members of this group took valuable photographs of the obelisks, inscriptions and ruins of Aksum, and of the earlier capital at Yeha, the ancient dam at Kohaitu and the early church of Dabra Damo, as well as of ancient Aksumite coins, and remarkable panoramic views of Aksum and Adwa. Also of interest were portraits of the local governor, Dajazmach Gabra Sellas, who greatly assisted their enterprise, and of a number of local officials and priests. All this, and more, was published in Littmann’s four-volume Deutsche Aksum-Expedition (Berlin, 1913).
The Italian Legation
Intensified interest in Ethiopia on the part of Italy in the years after the Adwa war had led meanwhile to the appointment at the Italian Legation in Addis Ababa in 1901 of a physician, Dr Lincoln de Castro, who travelled extensively in the country for the next decade. During his journeys he took a considerable number of excellent photographs, of historical sites, palaces, houses, churches and markets, secular and religious ceremonies and festivals, sports and games, including Ethiopian chess and the board-game gabata. He also photographed a number of innovations recently introduced by Menilek, among them the telephone and the mint, took portraits of prominent Ethiopian personalities and close-ups of objects of ethnographic value. All this he made accessible to the Italian “man in the street” in his Nella terra dei Negus (Milan, 1915).
Another photographer attached to the Italian Legation was a consular agent Bertolani, who took well over 300 photographs, now preserved in the Istituto Italo-Africano in Rome. They included portraits of Menilek in 1903 and 1909, as well as pictures of the then Egyptian head of the Ethiopian church, Abuna Matwos, and a number of the Rases, or provincial governors, some of which are reproduced in Gabra Sellase’s chronicle.
Extensive collections of photographs were also published at this time by several other Italians, among them Ottorino Rosa, whose L’impero del Leone di Giuda (Brescia, 1913) contained over a hundred pictures, and Dr Carlo Annaratone whose In Abissinia (Rome, 1914) had almost two hundred.
Also noteworthy was Arnoldo Cipola, a reporter for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, who travelled from Eritrea to Addis Ababa in 1910, and published over 150 photographs in Nell’ impero di Menelik (Milan, 1927) and several later works. His pictures included many provincial scenes, among them Emperor Yohannes’s palace at Maqal; and the cities of Adwa and Harar. He also took portraits of Menilek and Taytu, and of the latter’s recently appointed heir Lej Iyasu at school and attending state functions, as well as portraits of Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, Ras Tassama, and other members of the Emperor’s newly established Cabinet or Regency Council, the Abun, and Ras Mika’el, ruler of Wallo.
Other photographs showed Italian guns captured at Adwa, Dr Lincoln de Castro’s patients at the Italian Legation, and further pictures of Addis Ababa’s new institutions, among them the telegraph office, the Bank of Abyssinia, and the customs office.
Next Week:The Twentieth Century Continued.