What you see
Welcome to the website of Reframing PJU, an open ended artistic research project in which I work with an extensive collection of photographs produced on the African continent. A selection of these photographs were used in mass media from the 1930s onward. Through the methods used in the research they are placed in an open ended network. The singular photographs that were published become part of, literally, expanded frames that establish connections with the other pictures and narratives that they relate to in and through time. To get a taste of this before reading on visit the Breathing Photographs section of this website. Please be aware that the language used in quotes and some of the pictures shown are problematic, painful and in some cases even potentially traumatic displays of Black bodies. Below I will explain why I nevertheless consider it to be important to provide an opportunity to think with and through these photographs.
Reframing PJU is an effort to reflect on and contribute to a critical discourse concerning the construction of past and present day imaginations of ‘Africa’ that were part of the colonial project. The website is best viewed on a large screen.
The collection of photographs was produced by Dr. Paul Julien (NL, 1901-2001). Julien regularly travelled to ‘equatorial Africa’ between 1932 and 1962. He documented these journeys, which reached from Sierra Leone to Tanganyika to Ethiopia to Angola, extensively in photographs and film. A selection from this visual documentation was used with talks Julien held for national radio, books, research reports and illustrated lectures. A still smaller selection of pictures was used to illustrate interviews with, and articles about, Julien in Dutch media. Copies of Julien’s four monographs, published between 1940 and 1959, are still widely available in second hand shops. New, and in terms of the photographs, expanded editions of three of these books were republished in the 1990s, which also led to a renewed interest on national television and in print media. Julien was a force to be reckoned with in relation to the imagination of ‘Africa’ in the Netherlands.
I consider Julien’s legacy to be a tool that makes it possible to reconsider how African pasts have been presented in The Netherlands and beyond. Like many of his contemporaries Julien expanded his journeys, which lasted for a few weeks, to months. He read customs that he encountered through his western, Roman Catholic worldview to establish an ethical hierarchy between people and referred to as ‘good friends’ people whom he had only met once and for a maximum of a few days. In Reframing PJU, I initiate encounters that follow up on photographs produced by Paul Julien with the hope to connect them to views and voices that were silenced, negated, spectacularised or otherwise problematically fictionalised.
Julien, who considered himself to be a man of science, photographed rather systematically. He would take several exposures of an event, ranging from an overview of a scene to close up portraits of the people in it. This variety of images of the same situation makes it possible to reconstruct these encounters beyond the individual frames that were selected to accompany Julien’s stories.The idea of the photograph as an encounter is borrowed from Ariella Azoulay, What is a Photograph, What is Photography, 2010), but was also already mentioned by Eric Ketelaar, Archivalisation and … Continue reading
Julien often used at least two cameras (a 9×12 Bentzin, a 6×6 Rolleiflex, a Bolex 16mm film camera, a 35mm Pentax SLR camera) and various types of light sensitive film (several brands of black and white negative,Filmcolor is, as Betrand Lavedrine, author of the book The Lumière Autochrome: History, Technology, and Preservation (2013) told me in a private e-mail “strictly speaking […] not … Continue reading and Kodachrome positive) simultaneously, which makes it possible to think about the affordances of these technological devices and photographic materials in terms of the way they are programmed and the biases that were built into them.See Rosa Wevers, ‘Kodak Shirley is the Norm’: On Racism and Photography. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 1(1), 63–72. DOI: http://doi.org/10.33391/jgjh.19 for an article about … Continue reading
After Julien’s death these photographs have, together with vintage prints and documents related to his travels, been placed in the care of the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. The 16mm films he produced are in the depots of Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.
These museums offer the best possible conservational conditions currently available. As Julien’s legacy was placed in the wider museum collections, the way the materials in it were organised was preserved as much as possible. This means that the way the photographs were contextualised by and in relation to Paul Julien are also preserved for a generation to come. The period between the initial events and encounters that lead to Julien’s photographs and current potential audiences for his work increases every single day. As a consequence, the possibility for those audiences to recognise firsthand what is depicted in the photographs and to challenge and reframe Julien’s images diminishes quickly. This seemed to me to be a rather urgent premise from which I started to activate Paul Julien’s legacy in 2012.
I digitised the collection, which made it possible to share it with people who consider what is depicted on the photographs to be their heritage. This sharing was done by showing the pictures to people in the regions where Julien photographed as well as in dedicated groups on Facebook. My expectation that this might be mutually beneficial in terms of the information it provides these new audiences and how they, in turn, inform the collection turned out to be right from the start. My challenge was to develop a form in which to present the new status of the collection in a way that does justice to the photographs and to the insights generated by the new audiences. In other words- how to decenter Julien without fully negating him.
The historical materials that are now in the care of the Nederlands Fotomuseum are identified within their wider collection by the three-letter code PJU. I consider these three letters, that since 2019 have lent their name to the research project as well as this website, to be the ultimate reduction of an enormous number of encounters with multiple actors and stakeholders involved. Julien himself spoke in this regard of “a quantity of impressions hard to oversee.”See this film clip for the source of the quote.
This quote is exemplary for the way the photographs he produced had been framed up to the moment I started to work with them. There is no room for perspectives other than Julien’s, which is justified by once upon a time dominant conventions of science, religion and Western supremacy. By reconstructing the photographic events and encounters; connecting them and placing them in a wider historical and contemporary context, I also hope to contribute to the ongoing debates on the de-colonisation of archives and museum collections.
I carry out this research as an artist who uses her artistic practice as the research methodology. This means that I research and argue through intervening in “generally distributed ways of doing and making”. Intervening, in this case, is directed to the past and present day contexts and conditions in which the photographs produced by Paul Julien were made available to his audiences, and is fulfilled by placing them in a network. At the same time I intervene in academic conventions by giving the visual a central position rather than using it as illustration to or proof of what is stated in written language.I paraphrase, and build on, Jacques Ranciere here. See p.13 of The Politics of Aesthetics, The Distribution of the Sensible, 2004
This website is set up as an online archive that encourages wandering through the collection. It presents the Breathing Photograph as the main method in networking the PJU collection. These Breathing Photographs connect at least two photographic captures in animations in which individual pictures transition into one another at the pace of the breathing of the human body at ease. The pictures breathe in and through time, which offers the possibility to engage with the PJU collection while it resists the false transparency of the photographic capture.
On this website, the Breathing Photographs are accessible through four galleries and a finding aid. Each gallery presents a category of Breathing Photographs in which the individual photographic frames are expanded, in or through time, within or beyond the PJU collection. The finding aid allows you to enter the collection from a particular point in terms of geographical and temporal origins of the pictures.
Active links in the texts accompanying the Breathing Photographs allow you to navigate the online archive through particular places, protagonists, technologies and media in which Julien’s photographs were published, as well as motifs that recur throughout the collection.
It is my hope that this setup will allow you to find what you did not know you were looking for. To get lost while wandering through the website as it were and gaining new insights along the way. If a link only refers to the picture itself, then other Breathing Photographs with the same tag are not yet available. If their tag is empty this needs to be worked on and I would appreciate your feedback through the ‘response’ link. The network through which the collection can be accessed and browsed on this website will expand over time as more connections will continue to emerge.
The Active Archive page presents two chronologies of various correspondences with the PJU collection. One is a list of events – including written texts, performances, audio recordings, etc., the other one is a list of videos. These events and videos will increasingly be networked alongside the collection of Breathing Photographs.
I see presence and visibility in photographs as important and usually undervalued devices for reflection rather than mere illustrations with – or handmaids of – textual argumentation. I am aware that in doing this I also make Breathing Photographs that may be painful to see in terms of the cultural violence imposed on black bodies.See Johan Galtung, “Cultural Violence“, in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27, No. 3. (Aug., 1990), pp. 291-305. I nevertheless make them available here, not to repeat the cultural violence, but as witnesses to it that need to be reflected upon in terms of the problematic power dynamics that made the production of the pictures by Paul Julien possible in the first place. I acknowledge that it cannot be solely up to me, as a white European woman, to decide where the pain caused by the photographs no longer justifies my intentions. With this letter and each Breathing Photograph there is a link that makes it easy to share a response with me. Each response is appreciated, will have consequences for how pictures are shown and contextualised and thus contribute to a further reframing of Paul Julien’s legacy.
Reframing PJU is published on 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 has been made available while it is still under review. Following the basic premise of transparency in communication I consider to be necessary when working with problematic materials such as the PJU collection, peer reviews will be open and added to the content of the website once available.
Should you wish to read more about Paul Julien or my own position I recommend you read, respectively, this text by film historian Nico de Klerk and this letter in which I introduced myself to Paul Julien. Otherwise I hope that this website will bring you something of value in one way or another. Do not hesitate to respond to any aspect of it. I look forward to hearing from you.
With best regards,
|↑1||The idea of the photograph as an encounter is borrowed from Ariella Azoulay, What is a Photograph, What is Photography, 2010), but was also already mentioned by Eric Ketelaar, Archivalisation and Archiving, Archives & Manuscripts, 27(1), 1999, pp. 54-61, p.57|
|↑2||Filmcolor is, as Betrand Lavedrine, author of the book The Lumière Autochrome: History, Technology,|
and Preservation (2013) told me in a private e-mail “strictly speaking […] not autochrome[s] but this is the same principle for reproducing the color”. Julien did produce a few Autochromes in 1933. The Filmcolor pictures seem to date from 1933, 1935 and 1938.
|↑3||See Rosa Wevers, ‘Kodak Shirley is the Norm’: On Racism and Photography. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 1(1), 63–72. DOI: http://doi.org/10.33391/jgjh.19 for an article about biases built into photographic materials, and Vilem Flusser, Towards a History of Photography, 1983, pp.21-32|
|↑4||See this film clip for the source of the quote.|
|↑5||I paraphrase, and build on, Jacques Ranciere here. See p.13 of The Politics of Aesthetics, The Distribution of the Sensible, 2004|
|↑6||See Johan Galtung, “Cultural Violence“, in Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 27, No. 3. (Aug., 1990), pp. 291-305.|