In Luganda, the widest spoken minority language in East African country Uganda, the word for photographs is 'ebifananyi'. However, 'ebifananyi' does not, contrary to the etymology of the word 'photographs', relate to light writings. 'Ebifananyi' instead means 'things that look like something else'. Ebifananyi are likenesses.
My research project explores the consequences that this particular conceptualisation of photographs has for present day visual culture in Uganda as well as for its historical context. It also discusses my artistic practice as research method, which led to the digitisation of numerous collections of photographs which were previously unavailable to the public. This resulted in eight books and in exhibitions that took place in Uganda and in Europe.
The research was conducted in collaboration with both human and non-human actors. These actors included photographs, their owners, Ugandan picture makers as well as visitors to the exhibitions that were organised in Uganda and Western Europe. This methodology led to insights into differences in the production and uses of, and into meanings given to, photographs in both Ugandan and Dutch contexts.
Understanding differences between ebifananyi and photographs shapes the communication about photographs between Luganda and English speakers. Reflection on the conceptualisations languages offer for objects and for sensible aspects of the surrounding world will help prevent misunderstandings in communication in general.