Faces | Voices

Looking through the photographic archives of Northcote Thomas’s early twentieth-century anthropological surveys of Nigeria and Sierra Leone, one finds oneself gazing upon thousands of faces. Faces of men, women and children, many photographed against a canvas backdrop; all of them silent. What were they thinking as they were being photographed by this Government Anthropologist, perhaps with a number card held above their heads? Was the encounter with this pith-helmeted white man, with his entourage of carriers and boxes full of strange equipment, an unpleasant one, or an amusing distraction from everyday chores? What can we see in the faces Thomas photographed? What can we read in their expressions?

The Singer of Record 283

The names of many of those Northcote Thomas photographed and recorded in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915 are unknown. Many are identified only by a number. In one case, a casual note tells us that the subject of photograph 1430 is ‘the singer of record 283’.

Narrative affordances of a still image

Nneni, Southern Nigeria, 1911 – The Government Anthropologist at a meeting of chiefs to discuss a land dispute.

Rearticulating image and sound

Toma, Sierra Leone, 1915 – Sande society maskers and recording of female vocal group recorded by N. W. Thomas, 24 February 1915.