Hic sunt leones. Fotografia missionaria e immaginario esotico: l'incontro con l'Altrove

Translated title of the contribution: [Autom. eng. transl.] Hic sunt leones. Missionary photography and exotic imagery: the encounter with the Elsewhere

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


[Autom. eng. transl.] The network of texts that, since ancient times, has drawn the Elsewhere as a mysterious land, virgin - but also fraught with dangers and mysteries - owes a large part of its consistency to the descriptions (oral, written, figurative) made by European missionaries. In advance, sometimes in conjunction with colonial enterprises, the renewed missionary spirit of the nineteenth century is accompanied by the documentary and exploratory interest of the religious and coincides with the invention - photography - which promises to grasp reality in its unfolding, without pretense . Missionary institutes have been using photography since the second half of the nineteenth century. Religious use photographic images to achieve two purposes: to document and report on their own activities abroad and obtain financial aid for financing the missions. In doing this, photography (and the cinema that comes to life from it, often taking place and / or working side by side without interruption): it offers on the Elsewhere an alternative and not always complicit look at colonialism; necessarily confirms some prejudices built by the West (such as the cultural inferiority of the "primitives", therefore in need of salvation); draws (or strengthens) the idea of the costumes of the "savages", providing material for the studies of anthropology and ethnography; participates in the exhibition of the body of the Other by sending material for exhibitions and exhibitions taking place in the West (Piredda 2012). Faced with a very large production, studies on missionary photography are still limited numerically and often focus on individual cases (Schwarz 1970, Holland 1980, Rivoir 1981, Geary 1991, Landau 1994, Peers 1995, Triulzi 1995, Jenkins 1996, Garimoldi 1999, Edwards 2001, Bottomore 2002, Convents 2006, Osgnach 2013). Italy does not escape this trend, even though it is now established that among the first Italian photographers we can include missionaries (Gilardi 1976). Probably this delay is due, especially when the point of view of anthropological studies is adopted, to a general distrust of the objects of analysis (which are feared to be affected by religious and colonial rhetoric). At the same time, conservative attention is limited by the missionary institutes themselves, due to the lack of economic resources rather than of interest, and there are no common projects that envisage a cross-comparison between the production of all the institutes. Not forgetting, finally, that the missionaries rarely put their names on the photographs, according to the rule of humility envisaged by their vote. Therefore, the sector literature struggles to put in order a numerically conspicuous corpus of (fixed and moving) images of undoubted historical and anthropological value. The present intervention intends to offer, despite the limitations explained above, an overview of missionary photography produced by some Italian Institutes in the first three decades of the twentieth century. The intent is to highlight subjects, styles, aims and suggestions (for example anthropometric and criminal photography) operating in missionary photography and to better outline the face of the missionary photographer.
Translated title of the contribution[Autom. eng. transl.] Hic sunt leones. Missionary photography and exotic imagery: the encounter with the Elsewhere
Original languageItalian
Title of host publicationFotografia e culture visuali del XXI secolo
EditorsL Marmo, E Menduni
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Antropologia visuale
  • Fotografia missionaria
  • Missionary Photography
  • Visual Anthropology


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