Dissertations and Theses

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Ghana, Portrait, Africa


"At Paul Strand’s birth in 1890, the Gold Coast was an important West African colony of the British Empire.1 By 1963, when Strand, then an older statesman of modern photography, made his second of three trips to photograph Africa, the Gold Coast had become Ghana, the first independent democratic nation on the continent.2 In contrast to his previous projects, in which books swiftly followed the conclusion of Strand’s travels, the photos of Ghana remained unpublished until 1976. The resulting volume, Ghana: An African Portrait, included 93 photographs and a text by British-born historian of Africa Basil Davidson (1914 – 2010). This thesis takes up the following broad lines of inquiry. Why did Strand choose to go to Ghana to take photographs? Where did he go and who helped him? Did anyone influence his ideas about Ghana and Africa, and if so, how? What image of Ghana was Strand trying to create in the book? What are the book’s strengths and weaknesses? How is Ghana: An African Portrait similar to and different from Strand’s previous photography books? How does Ghana: An African Portrait relate to other images of Africa from the 1960s? How can we characterize Strand’s endeavor in relationship to photographic trends in the United States and Ghana at the same time? This thesis examines how the photographer’s own beliefs, and thus his images, overlapped with and responded to the prevalent frameworks for understanding African societies in the context of Ghana’s rapid industrialization and urbanization under the leadership of the nation’s 1 Paul Strand was born on October 16, 1890 in New York City and died in March 1976 in Orgeval, France. See “A Narrative Chronology” in Paul Strand: Essays on His Life and Work. (New York: Aperture, 1990). 2 Strand visited Egypt in 1959, Guinea in 1960 and Ghana in 1963-64. AG 17: 3, various. Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, accessed 10 June 2013. 2 first president, Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972). My research addresses the scarcity of discussion of Strand’s final photography book in the history of photography, and traces connections between Ghana: An African Portrait and the photographer’s early work. By adopting a critical approach to understanding Strand’s photographs and the framework for his final photography book in relationship to other mid-20th century photography books, I draw Strand into the discourses of post-colonial theories, a significant departure from previous understandings of the photographer’s oeuvre."


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