Uganda 1904  I  Rep. of the Congo 2019

The series “Blind Snake” deals with the western perspective on Africa, as well as stereotypes of both sides based on original photographs of the former African explorer and hunter, Rudolf Grauer, which were taken between 1904 and 1906.


I got the photographs from my former neighbor who found them in the basement. A little later I received an invitation to work on a photographic project in the Republic of the Congo. In this work - still in progress - I wanted to refer to Grauer’s photographs and create a dialogue between the two perspectives, that of a hunter and collector, and my perspective, that of a sociologist and photographer.


To first study the environment, the colors and the light onsite, I started to make cyanotypes. Cyanotype, blueprinting, is one of the oldest photographic processes and exposing the images requires only sunlight. In doing so, I intensively examined Grauer’s photographs and began to make collages which I used as negatives for my blue prints.


Grauer’s first trips to Africa brought him to North Africa and Egypt, then to Uganda, which he first visited as a kind of reconnaissance tour for his planned hunting expedition. While his main interest in the venture initially lay in the acquisition of hunting trophies, his ambitions soon turned into serious research. He began collecting birds and he was the first to climb the Ruwenzori to the watershed at 4,800 m.


In March 1907 he began his first expedition, which was planned as a zoological collecting tour for the Rothschild Museum in Tring (England), the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Zoological Museum in Berlin. 

In his three expeditions between 1907 and 1911 to East and Central Africa, he collected a total of 14,000 avian species, more than 1,000 mammals, around 50,000 insects and more than 4,000 amphibians and reptiles.*  Among them many new discoveries, such as the blind snake “Lake Tanganyika gracile blind snake “ zoologically named after him, Letheobia graueri, Grauer’s graceful blind snake.


The question that arose again and again in analyzing his photographs - to date - was to what extent has our present perspective changed in comparison to that 120 years ago? has it ever changed?

* Christa Riedl-Dorn, Hsg. Wilfried Seipel: Die Entdeckung der Welt. Die Welt der Entdeckungen. Österreichische Sammler, Forscher und Abenteurer. Skira Verlag, Wien, 2002.

Copyright of all images Verena Prenner 2021