The blog post, last of three, was written by Xavier Courouble, research assistant for Sailors and Daughters: Early Photography and the Indian Ocean, an online exhibition part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art’s Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa.
Charles Guillain’s three-volume work, Documents sur l’histoire, la géographie, et le commerce de l’Afrique orientale and the accompanying atlas folio of lithographs and map engravings, Voyage à la côte orientale d’Afrique give an account of travels undertaken in a pre-colonial context, where European explorers politically and logistically depended on the African inhabitants and sovereigns they encountered in Africa. The interactions experienced by Guillain and his African counterparts allowed for a reaffirmation of exploration as an encounter and a partnership rather than as an unequal confrontation constructing insurmountable otherness.
As Christine Barthe observes, “In the first ten years of photography, from 1841 to 1851, many travelers would try their hands at daguerreotypes outside Europe. Guillain’s photographs, taken in very difficult conditions, are not always perfect from a technical point of view, but they nevertheless represent the pioneering works in the history of photography.” They offer extraordinary insight into the people, the policies, and the places along the east coast of Africa during the mid nineteenth-century.
The Smithsonian Libraries has digitized the complete work of the volumes held by the Warren M. Robbins Library at the National Museum of African Art.
From Daguerreotypes: A Session of Portrait Photography at Zanzibar
From September 29 to October 13, 1847, during a visit to Zanzibar, the focal point of interest of his 1846-1848 expedition campaign, Guillain was regularly hosted by Syed Seliman Ben Ahmed, the governor of Zanzibar.
Guillain’s daguerreotypes were taken in the courtyard of the governor’s mansion. These photographs portrayed a lavishly dressed seven year-old girl named Aziza -Syed Seliman’s own great niece-, several of the governor’s concubines, in particular two women from Abyssinia (Amkara and Gourague), as well as the governor himself. Additional photographic sessions took place successively at the houses of Khamis Ben Osman, a prominent Zanzibari middleman and Arabic-speaking informant, and Abdallah Ben Ali, a Zanzibari trader and Swahili-speaking informant.
According to Guillain, Sayyid bin Said, the Sultan of Oman and Zanzibar, declined the opportunity to have his own photographic portrait taken. Undeterred, he added the daguerreotype portrait of Henri Gustave (M’tongou; Oulet), a young Yao slave who joined the expedition as a personal attendant to the frigate captain and later accompanied Guillain to France.
Read description of the portrait sessions at Zanzibar in Guillain’s Documents sur l’histoire, la géographie, et le commerce de l’Afrique orientale, tome 2, part 1, pp. 34 and 87; and tome 2, part 2, pp. 104-108.
From Daguerreotypes: A session of Portrait Photography at Ras Hhafoun
From February 1 to 20, 1847, Guillain, having completed the survey of several cities along the west coast of the Indian subcontinent, started his investigations of the Somali coast by first visiting the small harbors of Abd-el-Kouri and Ras Hhafoun. In the latter, Salem, an Arab who had resided there with his wife for thirty years, served as a liaison between Mr. Vignard, the expedition’s Arabic-speaking interpreter, and the Majeerteen (Medjeurtin) Somali community.
Guillain’s first daguerreotypes were taken on the deck of the frigate “Le Ducouëdic.” A few Majeerteen men as well as three women reluctantly brought on board by Salem, posed for portraits. The youngest, a twelve year-old unnamed girl, was Salem’s own daughter.
According to Guillain, the difficult behavior of his female subjects, not willing to follow the conventional portrait postures dictated by the photographer, exposed the polished copper plates to elevated temperature and particularly intense luminosity, thus affecting the final quality of the daguerreotypes.
Read description of the portrait sessions at Ras Hhafoun in Guillain’s Documents sur l’histoire, la géographie, et le commerce de l’Afrique orientale, tome 2, part 1, pp. 414 and 416.
From Daguerreotypes: A session of Portrait Photography at Mogadishu
From January 25 to February 2, 1848, during his second visit to Mogadishu, Guillain was again hosted by Sherif Sid Hhadad, a member of the prestigious Ashraf community and a prominent trader in the Shangani (Chinggani) quarter of the city.
Setting up his temporary photographic studio in a large room of his Somali host’s mansion, Guillain photographed Teri, the concubine of a local rich merchant, and Sherif Sid Qoullatin, an experienced Somali middleman/broker and Arabic-speaking interpreter.
According to Guillain, upon arrival to Mogadishu, the daguerreotype materials had deteriorated due to excessive saltwater exposure, affecting the chemical process occurring on the copper plates. As an unfortunate consequence, the extended length of the portraiture session including Teri resulted in the concubine being severely punished by her infuriated and jealous master.
Sherif Sid Qoullatin, a relative of Guillain’s abbaan (host/patron), and also a member of the Arabized Ashraf elite, mediated in favor of the French captain and his party under very difficult circumstances. At the time, the main Somali towns were regularly under siege as a result of the conflict between the militant Islamic reform movement lead by Haji Ibrahim, the religious leader of the community of Bardheere (today, Bardera), and an armed coalition led by Yusuf Mahamud, the Sultan of Geledi.
Read description of the portrait session at Mogadishu and references to Sid Qoullatin in Guillain’s Documents sur l’histoire, la géographie, et le commerce de l’Afrique orientale, tome 2, part 1, pp. 537 and 545; and tome 2, part 2, pp. 56, 64, and 74.
From Daguerreotypes: A session of Portrait Photography at Mombasa
From May 9 to 31, 1848, during his visit to Mombasa, Guillain occupied an apartment rented out by a female Swahili landlord from Lamu. While all of his officers set out to survey the vicinity of Mombasa (most particularly the village of Rabaye, notorious for its slave market), Guillain continued to gather information on local histories from urban and literate informants as well as from visiting African business travelers. He was assisted by Abdallah Ben Ali, a Zanzibari Swahili-speaking informant, and Tanggui-ben Chen’bé, the commander of the Sultan’s Baluchi soldiers. Interestingly so, he also frequently entertained guests and visitors at his apartment or on the deck of the frigate “Le Ducouëdic.”
Guillain unfortunately does not provide an account of possible daguerreotype sessions while residing in Mombasa. Yet many details on the appearance of his female subjects lead us to believe that several of the photographic portraits may have been taken in his apartment and/or on the deck of the frigate “Le Ducouëdic.”
For example, an engraving plate (plate 45, see above) displays a young Chaga woman who, according to Guillain, was on various occasions invited in his apartment to perform sensual dances for his guests. The plate also displays two Kamba women. They were the wives of Sultan Kivoï, an African trader visiting Mombasa to sell ivory tusks. The trader and his retinue were invited on board of the frigate “Le Ducouëdic,” and were lavishly entertained.
Read description of Charles Guillain’s sejourn at Mombasa in Guillain’s Documents sur l’histoire, la géographie, et le commerce de l’Afrique orientale, tome 2, part 2, pp. 208, 64215-217, and 288.
Renewed Exposure to Guillain’s Daguerreotypes
Between 1846 and 1848, Charles Guillain, assisted by Vernet, the helmsman of the frigate “Le Ducouëdic,” took a series of daguerreotypes while on an expedition along the coast of east Africa. These daguerreotypes are portraits of African and Arabic people of all ages and gender. They were taken during a remarkable period of intense experiment in the development of photography that started on January 1839 when the physicist François Arago, during a session of the Académie des Sciences de Paris, presented a new process developed by the French inventor Jacques Daguerre. The daguerreotypes were to modify people’s perception of the world and its representations, both in artistic and scientific fields.
In 1887, twelve years after his death, Guillain’s daguerreotypes were accessioned to the collections of the Laboratoire d’anthropologie du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle. They unfortunately fell into oblivion, except for succinct records of transfer within French museum institutions including Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro (1878), Musée de l’Homme (1932-35), and finally Musée du quai Branly (2004).
In 2003, more than a century later, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, organized the exhibition, French Daguerreotype. A Photographic Object. The exhibition sought to consider the daguerreotype in all its diversity and featured three hundred works by Daguerre and other pioneers of the years 1839-1860, including for the first time photographs taken by Guillain in Africa.
In 2007, the Musée du quai Branly hosted an exhibition featuring fifty-three remarkable daguerreotypes from the museum’s own photographic collections. Dr. Christine Barthe, curator of Camera Obscura, first daguerreotypes from the period 1841-1851, presented a series of African portraits taken by Louis-August Bisson (1841-42), Edouard Thiesson (1844-45), and Charles Guillain (1846-48), investigating the many links between the fine arts and the use of daguerreotype for ethnological studies.
– “Swahili Coast: Exploration by French Captain Charles Guillain, 1846-1848”. Blog post, part 1/3, written by Xavier Courouble. Accessible here on Blog.library.si.edu
– “Swahili Coast: Exploration by French Captain Charles Guillain, 1846-1848”. Blog post, part 2/3, written by Xavier Courouble. Accessible here on Blog.library.si.edu
– Documents sur l’histoire, la geographie et le commerce de l’afrique Orientale, by Charles Guillain, 1856; Arthus Bertrand, Editor, tome 1. Accessible here on library.si.edu/digital-library
– Documents sur l’histoire, la geographie et le commerce de l’afrique Orientale, by Charles Guillain, 1856; Arthus Bertrand, Editor, tome 2, part 1. Accessible here on library.si.edu/digital-library
– Documents sur l’histoire, la geographie et le commerce de l’afrique Orientale, by Charles Guillain, 1856; Arthus Bertrand, Editor, tome 2 , part 2. Accessible here on library.si.edu/digital-library
– Voyage à la Côte Orientale d’Afrique, by Charles Guillain, 1856; Arthus Bertrand, Editor, folio atlas. Accessible here on library.si.edu/digital-library
– “French Daguerreotype. A Photographic Object”. Exhibition presented at Musée d’orsay, Paris, from May 13 to August 17, 2003. Accessible here on http://www.musee-orsay.fr
– “The Dawn of Photography. French Daguerreotypes, 1839-1855”. Exhibition presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from September 22, 2003 to January 4, 2004. Accessible here on http://www.metmuseum.org
– Charles Guillain’s daguerreotypes, taken along the east coast of Africa in 1847 and 1848, are accessible here on the Iconothèque du Musée du Quai Branly
– “Sailors and Daughters: Early Photography and the Indian Ocean”, an online exhibition curated by Erin Haney, Ph.D., with the assistance of Xavier Courouble, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art’s programming for Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa. Accessible on indian-ocean.africa.si.edu
– BARTHE Christine, Monnier J., Camera Obscura : Premiers Portraits au Daguerréotype 1841-1851, Paris, Edition Nicolas Chaudun et Musée du Quai Branly, 2007. PDF file accessible here
– BARTHE Christine, La photothèque du musée de l’Homme. Bulletin des bibliothèques de France [en ligne], No. 2. 1994. Accessible here on http://bbf.enssib.fr/
– Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des Sciences, 1845, 1er Semestre, (Tome XX, No. 1), pp.242-246, Académie des Sciences (France). Accessible here on gallica.bnf.fr
– DANIEL Malcolm, The Daguerreian Age in France: 1839–1855. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Accessible here on http://www.metmuseum.org
– EDWARD Elizabeth, Anthropology and Photography 1860-1920, London, Yale University Press: Royal Anthropological Institute, 1992.
– GERAUD Jean-François, Sur des images disparues: les premiers daguerréotypes de la zone océan Indien du commandant Guillain, dans le cadre du colloque international Idées et représentations coloniales dans l’océan Indien XVIIIe-XXe, Centre de Recherche sur la Littérature des Voyages, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont, France, 2007. Audio file accessible here
– JEHEL Pierre-Jérôme, Photographie et Anthropologie en France au XIXe Siècle, Mémoire de DEA, “Esthétique, sciences et technologie des arts.” UFR “Arts, philosophie et esthétique.” Université Paris VIII, Saint-Denis, 1994-1995. PDF file accessible here
– MONNIER Jérôme, Les Daguerréotypes du Musée de l’Homme, Exemples de Restauration, Possibilités et Limites. Mémoire de fin d’études. Médiathèque numérique de l’Institut National du Patrimoine, 1993. Abstract file accessible here
– NICOLINI Béatrice, The Makram-Baluch-African Network in Zanzibar during the XIXth Century, African and Asian Studies, volume 5, nos. 3-4. Koninkijke Brill NV, Leyden, 2006. Available online see www.brill.nl or PDF file accessible here
– SCARINGI Céline, Le Difficile Statut de la Photographie Ethnographique: Etude du Fonds Photographique du Musée du Quai Branly, Mémoire en vue de l’obtention du diplôme de fin d’études de l’E.N.S. Louis-Lumière, 2009. PDF file accessible here