Other lives of the image: Examining the meanings of an apartheid-era collection of photographs in South Africa today

Image of a woman wearing a brown neck scarf

Anna Sephton (University of Brighton, in partnership with the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM), Oxford)

Supervised by Professor Darren Newbury and Dr. Julia Winckler (Brighton); Dr. Christopher Morton and Professor Jonny Steinberg (Oxford)

Anna has a BA in Modern History and International Relations from the University of St. Andrews, where she specialised in the history and sociology of disease. She completed her MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society at the University of Cambridge, where her dissertation looked at the intersection of testimonial studies, health activism, and the place of the ‘body’ in archival narratives within the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. 

Anna’s research at the PRM is an interdisciplinary examination of two deeply connected colonial and apartheid era photographic collections from South Africa, taken by Bryan Heseltine (1923-2008) and his aunt, Irene Heseltine (1892-unknown). These collections represent a key shift in not only the visual history of South Africa, but a rapidly changing socio-political, economic, and environmental landscape. 

The research aims to examine how these collections are both a product of, and resistant to, the uniquely South African ‘colonial archive.’ It will engage with the inheritance of colonial content and ways of thinking; the possibility of generating reflexive, ethically receptive and African-centric perspectives; the positionality of those behind the image and their ‘intrusion’ into meaning making; the relationship between identity and landscape; and the conflation of image documentation and truth-telling. This research will ultimately consider possible routes for repatriation, engaging in community-based fieldwork in South Africa aimed at collaborative storytelling and immersive, alternative exhibition spaces.