Hugo A. Bernatzik
Aulad Hamid girl with valuable head ornaments, Sudan
1927, neg. no. III 117
Gelatin Silver Print
5 1/4 x 7 3/8 in.
Photo courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art
BERNATZIK / AFRICA: Vintage Photographs by Hugo A. Bernatzik
NEW YORK • Throckmorton Fine Art • Ongoing
|Hugo A. Bernatzik (1857-1953) abandoned his medical studies at the University of Vienna in the early 1920's and sought adventure in Spain and northwest Africa. He immediately became enthralled in the peoples and cultures he encountered. Upon his return he enrolled in the philosophy department of the University of Vienna to continue his studies in the areas of ethnology, psychology, and anthropology. In 1925, he traveled to Egypt and Upper Sudan where he began seriously photographing people in their traditional environment. Subsequent extended trips throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific provide us with an incredible early look at the many people and places he encountered. He fell ill on his last trip to Morocco and died March 9, 1953 from a tropical disease, at the age of fifty-six.|
The vast, open space of southern Sudan was, in 1927, one of the most remote places in Africa. Situated at the confluence of several great rivers, the land was a sea of swamps and grasses, expanding and contracting with the seasonal rains. It was a land far from colonial administrative centers and only reasonably accessible by the occasional river steamer. Bernatzik cam to this region to hunt the game that still abounded, and much more importantly, to photograph and document the many different peoples who inhabited the area. His journals indicate that as he began to lose interest in the search for animals he further developed his talents for capturing images of the people whom he encountered.
The inhospitable nature of the environment also reflected the difficulty in photographing the inhabitants. Historically, these people were fiercely independent, suspicious of outsiders and prone to skirmishes and warfare, either amongst their own ethnic groups, or with outsiders, indigenous or European. Bernatzik found it hard to gain the trust and confidence of his subjects, oftentimes having to snap shots surreptitiously, or resorting to making payments of trade goods to local chiefs, which enabled him to shoot within the local communities. He was adept at seizing any opportunity to photograph something interesting.
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