Peoples of the Upper Nile: Richard Buchta in Equatoria, 1878–1880

23 February - 5 July 2015

Archive case display (First Floor)

shilluk warrior
Shilluk Warrior, probably taken August 1878

The Austrian photographer Richard Buchta (1845–1894) is regarded as having undertaken the earliest photographic tour of central Africa. His journey into Equatoria Province (now parts of South Sudan and northern Uganda) shaped the visual representation of its peoples in European literature for a generation, being celebrated and reproduced, mostly in engraved form, by all the major explorer-writers of central Africa in the period.

The prints displayed here are from a contemporary version of his major photographic work Die Oberen Nil-länder: Volkstypen und Landschaften (1881) that he published in a box set on his return to Europe. The work includes some of the earliest photographs of the peoples living along the Nile in South Sudan and northern Uganda, such as the Dinka, Shilluk, Madi, Bari, Acholi, Nyoro, Makaraka, Zande and Aka.

Buchta was born in 1845 in Radłów in Galicia (now Poland), and travelled to Cairo around 1870 as a practising photographer. He was possibly still working there in April 1877 when the Italian soldier and explorer Romolo Gessi (1831–1881) engaged him as photographer on an expedition to the Sudan that he was organizing. The circumstances of Buchta’s decision in mid-1878 to undertake a solo photographic tour southwards into Equatoria Province are not known, but Gessi didn’t accompany him as he had planned.

Two Madi women
Two Madi women, December 1878 - March 1879

In Equatoria, Buchta met Emin Bey (later Pasha), who had just been appointed as General Gordon’s replacement as Governor. Equatoria had only recently been established as a province of Egypt by Samuel Baker in 1870, with the intention of suppressing slavery and opening up trade routes. Only ever consisting of a handful of defended garrison bases, Equatoria (including Emin) was subsequently cut off from other Egyptian forces after theMahdist uprising in Khartoum in 1885. Emin’s public persona as An Acholi man
An Acholi man, January 1879 1998.
“Gordon’s last lieutenant” famously prompted the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition (1887-9), led by Henry Morton Stanley, after which Equatoria ceased to exist as an Egyptian province.

After his Equatoria journey, Buchta returned to Munich where he worked for the Bavarian King Ludwig II, for whom he painted and made miniatures in ivory. After Ludwig’s death in 1886, Buchta moved to Vienna, where he worked on Junker’s first volume of travels (1890) and his own book Der Sudan Unter Ägyptischer Herrschaft (1888).

For further information see Christopher Morton (2015) ‘Richard Buchta and the visual representation of Equatoria in the later nineteenth century’, in Christopher Morton and Darren Newbury (eds) The African Photographic Archive: Research and Curatorial Strategies (London: Bloomsbury).


Display curated by Christopher Morton
Case design by Jon Eccles