What you see
Welcome to Reframing PJU, an open ended research project that activates the legacy of Dr. Paul Julien, a Dutch man who lived from 1901 till 2001. This legacy consists of photographic negatives, direct positives, lantern slides, prints and documents that have been placed in the care of the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. The museum offers the best possible conditions to preserve the collection that is identified by the three-letter code PJU.
For the time being Reframing PJU is best viewed on a large screen, please bear with us while its functionality is improved. I would also like to point out that this publication is part of Bridging Humanities: “an open access, peer reviewed, interdisciplinary and multi-area platform, that allows a working place to publish digital projects in innovative formats”. Due to the particular format of this project the website is published while it is still under review.
Paul Julien was an important factor in shaping the imagination of ‘Africa’ in the Netherlands in the 20th century. Between 1932 and 1962 he frequently travelled to the African continent with scientific research as the primary objective. Julien’s photographs and the stories they accompanied, however, were not only presented within an academic context, but instead reached Dutch audiences in mass media, bestselling books, and illustrated lectures. Until recently the photographs in the PJU collection have almost exclusively been contextualised by Paul Julien’s authoritative voice. In case you would like to read more about Julien then please consult the text written by film historian, archivist and curator Nico de Klerk as part of a joint presentation for the 2020 edition of the Orphans Film Symposium.
The near perfect conservation circumstances in which Paul Julien’s legacy is held guarantee that it will be available for generations to come. This makes questioning the conditions in which the photographs were produced as well as engaging with their respective positions and potential in the past and present all the more urgent. The insights such engagement results in are not fixed but will continue to evolve over time. Reframing PJU is therefore, in principle, an open ended research project, as is this website.
In Reframing PJU Julien is decentered from being the primary voice that gives meaning to the photographs that were produced in relation to his travels. Instead this research project engages with the following questions. What do these photographs mean in the regions where they were once produced? To what extent are the pictures valuable or problematic for the descendants of the people that can be seen on them and their communities? How do the photographs inform past and present day cultural practices? Which choices were, in framing and editing, made towards the presentation of the photographs to Dutch audiences? How should we understand the photographs within a wider visual culture context that imagined, and continues to imagine, ‘Africa’ both on and beyond the continent?
The main method in activating the PJU collection is the production of Breathing Photographs in which still frames are connected in animations that transition at the pace of the breathing of the human body at ease. The photographs breathe in and through time in an attempt to offer the possibility to engage with the photographs in the collection while refusing to make access and presence something self-evidentiary.
This website is set up as an online archive that allows wandering through the visual, rather than having to access the visual sources through textual information. Therefore the Breathing Photographs are primarily accessible through four galleries. It is my hope that these galleries allow you to find what you did not know you were looking for. Active links in the texts accompanying the Breathing Photographs allow you to navigate through the online archive following your own interests. These links include particular places, protagonists, technologies used, media in which Julien’s photographs were published, and motifs that recur throughout the collection. Alternatively, the Breathing photographs can be accessed through the chronology in which the photographs in the PJU collection were produced. Over time other finding aids will be added.
The meshwork through which the archive can be accessed and browsed on this website will become finer over time as more connections will continue to emerge.
The correspondences tab, that is not yet active, will eventually give access to various exchanges. These exchanges will include a set of letters that I wrote to Paul Julien in an attempt to clarify the way my understanding of his legacy, as well as the methodology and research methods used for working with it, developed. While Julien can no longer reply, this seemed an appropriate way to both acknowledge him and force myself to continue to relate to his position(s) that I so often find problematic and painful. The idea is that other correspondences, that function as a transparent mode of peer review, will also be added to this section.
While I will be working on brief texts that provide available information with the Breathing Photographs, you can already respond to them. I look forward to receiving your question or comment, and wish you a good experience browsing through the website.
P.S. It might be of interest for you to know what and who made this research project possible. I started to work with the PJU collection in 2012. The initial stages of the engagements with it were funded through grants from Noorderlicht Fotofestival (2012), and The Mix Projects (2015). Some of the work that was done was made possible by the Mondriaan Foundation. In 2018 the research continued within the context of the teachers research group of the Royal Academy for the Art in The Hague. In 2019, Reframing PJU was awarded an ‘idea generator’ grant from Dutch funding body for academic research NWO with Bridging Humanities, Nederlands Fotomuseum and the Royal Academy as partners. In 2020 conversations about the collection were expanded to the Netherlands with the help of a grant from the Fonds voor Cultuur Participatie and in collaboration with CBK Zuidoost in Amsterdam. Numerous individuals and institutes on the African continent have helped to inform the photographs in the PJU collection over the years. The same goes for the hive mind generated by several Facebook groups with a particular focus.