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'A Huge Blunder from Beginning to End': Colonial Archives and the Hong Kong Commission of Baron Raimund von Stillfried

Authors: Gartlan, Luke
Keywords: photography;Hong Kong;von Stillfried, Raimund, Baron;colonial archives
Issue Date: 23-Feb-2011
Abstract: This paper examines an album of photographs of the visit of the Royal Princes Albert Victor and George of Wales to the British colony of Hong Kong in 1881-1882. As an official commission of the Governor-General Sir John Pope-Hennessy, the Austrian photographer, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, endeavoured to satisfy his patron's demand for a deluxe souvenir of the royal visit. This case study emphasizes the potential of official commissions to embarrass their colonial masters and render the mechanisms of colonial bureaucracy open to public scrutiny. As the full financial cost of the commission became known, the subsequent public scandal threatened to compromise the photographs' intention as testaments of colonial order and authority. The controversial history of this commission effectively ensured the photographic album's burial in colonial archives as a compromised document of state maladministration. To borrow Christopher Pinney's recent term, it provides a salient reminder of the potential 'poison' of photography for the operations of colonial governance. This paper highlights the hazards of photography for the purposes of colonial officials and the potential of colonial archives to reveal alternative histories of photography's unruly relations with colonial and institutional power.
Description: Conference paper presented March 25-26, 2011.
Rights: Copyright Luke Gartlan, 2011.
Appears in Collections:Photo Archives and the Photographic Memory of Art History, part III

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