Richard Vokes Lecture
Shooting Dada: The Afterlife of Official Photography from Idi Amin’s Uganda
A public lecture by Richard Vokes, Associate Professor in Anthropology at The University of Western Australia.
Over the course of his eight years as president of Uganda, Idi Amin was the subject of hundreds of thousands of photographs. A dedicated and talented team of photographers under the Ministry of Information followed Amin, taking pictures of the many occasions when he appeared before a public. It was a perilous job. At least one government photographer—Jimmy Parmar—was executed by Amin’s men as punishment for his pursuit of unapproved photographic subjects.
For decades it was thought that the photographs taken by the men of the Ministry had been lost to posterity, destroyed during the tumult of the early 1980s or misplaced during subsequent relocations of the Ministry’s archives. However, in 2015, Richard Vokes, working with Winston Agaba and Malachi Kabaale at the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation in Kampala, uncovered a filing cabinet full of thousands of photographic negatives. Each envelope was carefully labelled with information about the date and subject of the photograph. With Derek Peterson (University of Michigan) and Edgar Taylor (Makerere University) they later established that there are in fact 85,000 negatives. Moreover, a majority of these negatives had never been used to make prints.
In 2018, the UBC launched a project to digitize the archive, in partnership with the University of Western Australia and the University of Michigan, and to date, the project team has scanned around 45,000 of the images. Between 2019-2021 the team staged a series of major exhibitions of the material, and produced a range of publications including the book: The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin (Prestel, 2021). The newly-digitised material has been also used in a stage production of Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland, and is now the subject of a feature-length documentary film project, being produced by Spring Films, London.
In this lecture, Richard Vokes presented his latest research on the archive, and explore what it reveals about the growing nexus between official photography, photo-journalism, and other kinds of commercial photography, in the 1970s. Through a forensic analysis of the circulation of specific (now iconic) images of the Amin regime, he discussed how the growing nexus between these different kinds of photography shaped the way in which the Amin regime was perceived, throughout the world, during the 1970s, and how it has continued to be perceived ever since. This talk contributed to ongoing public discussions about how the Amin years may be memorialised in Uganda itself, and how it could be represented in global media, in ways that are more sensitive to the suffering that so many Ugandans experienced during that period.
The lecture was dedicated to the memory of the estimated 300,000 people who were killed by the Idi Amin regime.
Richard Vokes is Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Western Australia, and an elected Research Associate of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford. He holds a D.Phil from the University of Oxford. His research focuses primarily on the African Great Lakes region, especially on the societies of South-western Uganda, where he has been conducting ethnographic fieldwork since 2000. He has published extensively, including on: development (governance, education, and natural resource management), the HIV/AIDS epidemic, new religious movements, and the history of photography, media and social change. He also works with African-Australians, in the digital humanities, and on the Anthropology of Antarctica. His books include: Ghosts of Kanungu (2009); Routes and Traces: Anthropology, Photography and the Archive (with Marcus Banks, 2010); Photography in Africa (2012); Media and Development (2018); Shifting States (with Alison Dundon, 2021), and; The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin (with Derek Peterson, 2021).