I had a good dig through the British National Archives this morning and began fixating on the “Nigeria” album, containing over 900 photographs from the Colonial Office photographic collection. It’s an exhaustive album of portraits and documentation of the photographer’s tour through what was then Colonial Nigeria in the late 19th century. The photographs capture so many different faces. It’s as if the photographer went through every village and tribe asking to take a portrait of every member, most of whom had likely never seen a camera, or even a white man before.
The colonial period proper in Nigeria lasted from 1900 to 1960, after which Nigeria gained its independence. British influence in the region began with the prohibition of slave trade to British subjects in 1807 and grew with the establishment of the the Oil River Protectorate in 1884.
The economic system imposed by the British following military conquest was designed to profit from African labour, and to this day in Nigeria, the amalgamation of different ethnic and religious groups into one federation still creates internal tension.
Despite their context, I found these portraits taken over 100 years ago incredibly beautiful and moving.
Discover more of this fascinating album on the British National Archives Flickr page.