Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

234 × 156 × 23 mm
272 pages
92 illustrations
01 Oct 1997
Picturing History
  • £25.00

  • This edition is currently unavailable

Picturing Empire Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire James R. Ryan

While the cultural history of the British Empire has recently attracted much interest, relatively little attention has been paid to the significance of its visualization. Yet the Empire was pictured across a wide spectrum of imagery, from paintings to postcards, maps to documents. Focusing on the role of photography, this wide-ranging book explores the aesthetics of empire.

The development of photography in the Victorian era coincided with the dramatic expansion of the British Empire. Photography assisted in the exploration, surveying and mapping of territory and the representation of imperial landscapes. To audiences hungry for glimpses of a rapidly expanding world, photographs seemed to capture distant realities, rendering them accessible. And while administrators and anthropologists used photography to picture‘racial types’, soldiers and hunters armed themselves with cameras in order to capture photographic ‘trophies’ of natives and animals.

Drawing on a broad range of visual imagery, including many previously unpublished photographs, James Ryan shows how photographic practices and aesthetics can express and articulate the ideologies of imperialism.

‘James Ryans Picturing Empire goes a lot further than provoking and entertaining. His record of the role of photography in the exploration, then military conquest of Empire, and in its justification and maintenance through racist pseudo-science, is an insightful window on the Victorian mind.’ — The Herald, Glasgow

‘an accessible account of a fascinating aspect of the development of the British Empire as reflected by and even created by photographic images . . . a welcome and diverting addition.’ — Mercators World

‘it finds just the right balance between interpreting the photographs and the practices, which created, maintained and circulated them. Picturing Empire is the sort of book that makes you ask yourself: why hasn't this been written before?’ — Professional Geographer

‘demonstrate[s] the way in which photographic texts contributed to imaginative geographies, how colonial photography was not simply panoptical, and how institutions such as the Royal Geographical Society, and their position of power, provided an ideological basis for photographic imagery. James Ryan deserves high praise for a pioneering work on colonial photography and imperial geography. It will be of interest to readers from a wide range of academic fields. Social & Cultural Geography what distinguishes Picturing Empire is the richness and excellence of its well-researched data’ — Ecumene

Picturing Empire succeeds in establishing the modernity of geographys imperialist heritage as our own modernity and, for this, it deserves to be widely read by those interested in geographys past and possible futures.’ — Progress in Human Geography

Show all

James R. Ryan is Associate Professor of Historical and Cultural Geography at the University of Exeter. His previous books include Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (Reaktion, 1997), Photography and Exploration (Reaktion, 2013). He is the co-editor of New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century (2010).