University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Giulia Paoletti

Assistant Professor, Department of Art


Reinventing Photography: Technology and Visuality in Senegal (1860-1960)

My current book project reframes narratives of photography’s origin and originality by zooming into the first one hundred years of photography in Senegal (1860-1960). Senegal has received significant attention as one of the epicenters of modernism in the Black Atlantic, and yet, the advent of photography in the country in the 1840s has hardly been considered in shaping the local experience of modernity. Rather than approaching photography as either a “local” or a “foreign” technology, this project builds on Ariella Azoulay’s idea that photography is not “susceptible to monopolization.” Not only couldn’t the colonizers hold this technology hostage, but no one could. Photography—as analogic image, reproducible copy, movable object, portable technology, and itinerant authorship—travels unbound to time and space and cannot be contained. Based on nearly ten years of field and archival research in Senegal, this book will foreground four case studies, each considering different materialities, genres, aesthetics and authors that will at once undermine the linearity of photography’s history and show how the photographic image, in its analogic relation to the world, is constantly being re-invented and in the process, it has the power to disrupt imperial expectations.


Giulia Paoletti is Assistant Professor of African art in the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia. A specialist of modern and contemporary African art, her research focuses on the histories and theories of photography in West Africa. She is working on a book manuscript tracing the origins and early developments of photography in Senegal, where she has conducted fieldwork over the past ten years. Her work has appeared in edited volumes, and academic journals including Cahiers d'études africaines, the Metropolitan Museum Journal, Art in Translation, and African Arts. Support for her research and writing includes awards and fellowships from The Arts Council of the African Studies Association, the National Museum of African Art Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.Her curatorial practice includes three exhibitions she co-curated on historical and contemporary African photography at the Dak’art Biennial OFF 2018; the Wallach Gallery in New York (2016); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2015).