Visual Anthropology

Alice Pawlik

The Weltkulturen Museum houses a wide-ranging collection of ethnographical images and films, systematically established since its foundation in 1987 thanks to donations, estates bestowed on it, and above all by constant acquisitions from scientists, photographers, journalists and travelers.

The photographs taken by the Museum’s founder Dr. Bernhard Hagen in 1905 during his first expedition to Sumatra by the then Frankfurt Ethnographical Museum form are the first photographs of the extensive image and film collection.

Later research and collection trips, such as the expedition in 1928 headed by Ernst Vatter to the Lesser Sunda Islands, were photographically documented.

Moreover, the collection includes remarkable missionary images from Africa, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea established in cooperation with the missionary orders SVD and Steyl as well as the Anthropos Institut in Sankt Augustin.

Collaboration with the Jesuit Archive in Bonn enabled us to expand the collection of missionary images.

The photographic and film collection centers, however, on slide and photographic collections from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s acquired by the Museum from scientists, photographers, journalists and travelers in line with specific thematic criteria.

The range of themes covered by the collection Visual Anthropology is extensive, stretching from shots highlighting the local culture or countryside, via historical and archaeological sites, through to specific themes such as initiation rites, festivals and dances, crafts or environmental degradation.

Moreover, one of the largest collections consists of the filmic and photographic oeuvre of Hermann Schlenker. He worked for over 30 years as a photographer and cameraman for Institut für den wissenschaftlichen Film in Göttingen and for the International Film Foundation in New York, in almost all regions of the world.

Alongside scholarly, thematic acquisitions for the collection, the collection's reach has been enriched by countless private donations of photo and slide collections, such as the collection of Rudolf G. Baumann, who traveled to Asia as a merchant between 1888 and 1930. During his various stays, each of several years, he took over 1,000 photographs.

The visual reach of the collection Visual Anthropology is also broadened by the collection of journalist, writer and world traveler, Ms. Milli Bau. Several thousand slides, negatives and prints document Bau’s travels in the 1950s and 1960s to almost all regions of the world.

The collection has since grown to include about 100,000 images, consisting of slides, prints, negatives, older glass stereo slides, digital images, as well as drawings and postcards. Then there are about 550 ethnographical films.

The sheer diversity of the image material reflects what is now over a century of ethnographical photo history, the opportunities of scientific research, artistic thinking, and self-reflective enquiry into ethnology as a subject.