Alice Seeley Harris and the incorruptible Kodak:
At the end of the C19 just when Britain and the West thought they held the moral high ground with a woman from Frome exposed the hypocrisy of imperial trade, the continuation of the slave trade and genocide in Africa
Alice Seeley Harris used one of the world’s first portable cameras, a Kodak Brownie, to take images which were used in one of the first human rights campaigns. Belgian King Leopold II, Queen Victoria’s cousin, ran the Congo as his private estate, exploiting its natural wealth..ivory, rubber and mineral and enslaving the people who lived there
A story of one of Alice Seeley Harris photographs, currently in the Brutal Exposure exhibition in Liverpool:
In 1904 two men arrived at their mission from a village attacked by ‘sentries’ of the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (ABIR) after failing to provide the required rubber quota. One of the men, Nsala, was holding a small bundle of leaves which when opened revealed the severed hand and foot of a child. Sentries had killed and mutilated Nsala’s wife and daughter. Appalled, Alice persuaded Nsala to pose with his child’s remains on the veranda of her home for a picture that would be one of the most shocking in the Seeley Harris’ collection.
A slide show of her photographs toured widely and helped mobilise public opinion against Leopold and his corrupt regime in Congo.
In 1905, Mark Twain published King Leopold’s Soliloquy, an imagined set of musings in which Leopold cited the “incorruptible Kodak” camera as the only witness he had encountered in his long career that he could not bribe.
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