Photography was one of the main tools of propaganda justifying the Belgian presence in its former colony. From the afterwar years through the Congolese independence in 1960 the official Belgian documentation services and press agencies like Congopresse produced an extraordinary amount of images. Widely distributed, they have been marking our collective memory of Congo’s colonial past for decades. These often high-quality shots in beautiful black and white, made by talented photographers like Henri Goldstein, R. Stalin, C. Lamote and J. Costa, glorified the colonial history, idealized the Belgian achievements and emphasized the so-called civilizing mission.
Whether looking, from today’s perspective, grossly oversimplified, naïve or merely cynical, these images are just one side of a vastly complex reality. As the visualization of the colonial dream and ambitions, they may often speak for themselves, although extensive notes on the back take the viewer by the hand. Ironically, though, while produced as justification, they can now just as well be read as criticism of the colonial mentality.
Here’s a selection from the image bank of Liberas/Liberaal Archief.