My attention has been drawn to an article published in the Summer 2012 issue of African Arts (vol. 45, no. 2): Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann, “Under Imperial Eyes, Black Bodies, Buttocks, and Breasts. British Colonial Photography and Asante ‘Fetish Girls’.”
I think the author allowed herself to be seriously misled when she implies that the photographer of the portraits she analyses, Frederick Grant, was an Englishman. Grant is a well-known family name in Cape Coast, a Ghanaian coastal settlement. Furthermore, in a database of Basel Mission photographs which was put on general access online almost fifteen years ago, and for which I was co-director, “Fred Grant” is listed in the alphabetical browsing list of photographers and can be identified as a professional who was taking photographs in Cape Coast in 1874. The database, which is now in the hands of the University of Southern California, can be found online at bmpix.usc.edu.
Naturally there could have been two Frederick/Fred Grants taking photographs in Ghana in the second half of the 1870s and the early 1880s—but this is highly unlikely. And the fact that the photographer was registering his images for copyright protection and had a business address in London could very well be more an interesting insight into the attempt of an African photographer to profit from the undoubted interest in images from Asante in Great Britain—rather than 100% evidence that this Grant was an Englishman.
Perhaps I could allow myself to express a little the emotion of frustration about all this. For thirty years, with the backing of the Basel Mission and finance from a number of serious foundations, like the Getty Grant Program, I was engaged as archivist in making the materials in the Basel Mission archive accessible to international scholarship—for example by making sure that the 25,000 images in bmpix are not only generally accessible online and equipped with the maximum possible catalogue detail, but that this catalogue detail was translated 1:1 from German into English. So it is extremely disappointing to find that there is no trace that Ms Engmann's methodology included a search of bmpix. Further: in a CD-appendix to the Journal des africanistes 2005 (subtitle: Approches croisées des mondes akan II) I published a “Provisional Survey of Nineteenth Century Photography on the Gold Coast and in Ashanti” with a summary discussion, admittedly somewhat speculative, about the potential holdings of photographs taken in pre-1896 Asante which might be found in European collections, other than those in the Basel Mission, in which I point out that anonymous images of people in or from Asante which I have seen from the years after the 1874 war could well have been taken by Fred Grant, the photographer from Cape Coast.
It is also a matter of some frustration for me that Dr. Jürg Schneider, a former academic assistant of mine, who wrote a dissertation in the History Department of the University of Basel on African photographers over the years 1840 to 1885 on the African coast between Luanda and Dakar (which I co-examined), also does not appear in Ms. Engmann's bibliography. Admittedly the thesis is in German, but Schneider has published in English, and his interest in nineteenth century African photographers is well known among most people in the field.
A final point—did anyone ask whether these are perhaps actually portraits of girls dressed for the Krobo dipo puberty rite and relabelled “Asante” for the sake of the higher price an image said to be from Asante could command?