The “Early Photography in Borneo” a panel at the 2021 EuroSEAS conference

The 2021 conference of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) was held in Olomuc, Czech Republic, from the 7th to the 10th September.

The panel “Between Heritage and Colonial Representations: Early Photography in Borneo”, organised by Antonio Guerreiro, included four presentations related to Borneo:

  • Antonio J. Guerreiro, “Charles Hose’s Borneo: A Pioneer photographer in Sarawak”
  • Rosalie C. Corpuz, “Early Photography in North Borneo – Sabah, Malaysia”
  • Bernard Sellato, “Jean Demmeni (1866-1939), a great photographer for two famous Borneo explorers”
  • Nicolas Césard & Bernard Sellato, “Expeditions and photography in Kalimantan. Combining historical and morphological approaches to reconstruct Dutch military excursions in the Interior of Borneo”

Panel abstract

Charles Hose

The panel will showcase the salient aspects of early photography in Borneo, in the former British (Sarawak, Sabah), and Dutch colonial areas (Kalimantan), c. 1870s – 1920s. A first step will be identifying the individuals active in the field and their practice of photography. Charles Hose (1863-1929) as a cadet, then Resident, was the most notable administrative
officer in the Brooke Raj who was involved in pioneering ethnographic studies and photography. Between 1884 and 1907, he was posted in out-stations, in the Baram and the Rejang. The panel will outline the different uses of photography and more generally, illustration, in Charles Hose’s main publications, including the style of the captions. The relation between photography and ethnographic and natural history collecting, will be stressed. Besides cultural heritage (tangible, i.e material culture, and its intangible dimensions), the exotic as expressed in landscapes, animal life and portraits, features prominently in the images from this period. Dayak/Punan/Penan/Murut indigenous peoples and fauna and flora have been the most popular subjects of photographers. A mapping of the categories of representations in order to focus on the colonial gaze in Borneo will be provided. The panel will address as well the historical context at the time: the colonial presence and ‘ethnographic expeditions’ taking place in central Borneo, a region spread between Sarawak and Kalimantan, Indonesia (known then as ‘Dutch Borneo’). Another famous photographer, Jean Demmeni (1866-1939), participated in A. W. Nieuwenhuis’ three expeditions taking place across West and East Borneo, between 1896 and 1900. Hose intensively practiced photography during his postings in the Baram and the Rejang areas (circa 1895 – 1907,1920). Besides Charles Hose and Jean Demmeni, other photographers were active in Borneo during this period (inter alia Evans, Funk, Furness, Grubauer, Haddon, Harrisson-Smith, Martin and Osa Johnson, Mjöberg, Tillema, Woolley). Besides so-called ‘scientific photography’, used to support academic texts and explorations, another photographic type which has been overlooked, i.e. postcards with exotic and romantic connotations, will be considered. In short, early photography besides engravings or drawings – actually the former often made after photographs – had a significant role in the shaping of Borneo’s ‘culturescape’ during the 20th century.