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The Photographic Holdings of the Ethnographical Collections Saxony: Digitization and Indexing

With roundabout 260,000 photographs from nearly all regions of the world the State Ethnographical Collections Saxony (SES) with their branches in Leipzig, Dresden, and Herrnhut possess extensive photographical holdings. Positives, negatives, and diapositives – created between 1860 and today – can be traced back to travelers and researchers, colonial officers and military personnel, seafarers and missionaries, anthropologists and ethnologists. Not only do the images, many of them with a colonial background, provide clues about the photographic exploration of the continents and their different cultures, but they also inspire a critical reading and report about the conditions of their production as well as the relationship between the people in front of and behind the camera. These previously barely explored collections are to be disclosed now. Their digitization and indexing naturally entails a reevaluation. Perceived as discrete objects, the materiality of which serves as an indicator for functional contexts, the photographs can be read against the background of a postcolonial discourse and used to analyze aspects such as the visual construction of “the other”. Thus, the scientific and methodological history of ethnography is linked to questions of pictorial science and photographic theory.

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  • - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.
  • - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.


Results and Objectives

  • A selection of 52,000 photographs is processed within the project. The objects, along with all ascertainable information, are listed in the Daphne database and accompanied by newly created digital copies. This allows easy internal access in the spirit of a “silent archive” while protecting the often fragile originals.
  • Moreover, the publication of the data sets in the Online Collection on the SKD website is intended to make the knowledge conveyed in the photographs publically available and to build a platform for discussion. This renders the digital repatriation of the visual documents to the societies of origin and the creation of reciprocal channels of knowledge transfer possible.

Intermediate Results, Publications

Collection in Charge

  • Dresden State Art Collections (SKD), State Ethnographic Collections Saxony (SES)

Project Management

  • Dr. Agnes Matthias
    Curator for photography at the State Ethnographic Collections Saxony / research program “Europe/World”, SKD

Project Associates

  • Sebastian Dressel (until June 2016)
  • Anna Eisenmenger
  • Urte Gärtner (until Dezember 2015)
  • Irene Godenschweg (scientific archives Dresden)
  • Christiane Klaucke (scientific archives Leipzig)
  • Nora Henneck
  • Jasmin Thieme (until June 2016)


  • 2014–2016

Project Partners