Near the turn of the last century Stone Townwas a bustling port, atrading center, a supply and communication hub and a true International City. Travelers from many lands passed through Zanzibar and like modern tourists, many wanted to keep a record of the sights they had seen.
Cameras were large and complex in those days, hard to maintain and transport. But Zanzibar was fortunate to have intelligent citizens and business interests with enough foresight and skill to risk importing a number of these new-fangled cameras to the Islands. They were at onceset up to photograph important events, buildings and sometimes local "color" in order to sell pictures to an eager public. We are fortunate that many of these early photos were later made into post cards which survive to this day to give us a glimpse of the past.
Most Zanzibar Photographers worked and lived in Stone Town but some of their best work was done outside the city.
Zanzibar photographers knew the advantage of perspective, and used it to compose some wonderful images.
Both work and play were documented by these pioneer artists.
Stone Town grew to support at least six photographic firms;
1. The Coutinho Bros. who also operated under the name J. B. Coutinho, photographer, Zanzibar.
J. B. Coutinho was one of the first men in Africa to take up the new profession of “photographer”. The Coutinho brothers established the second commercial photographic firm in East Africa. They first opened a studio in Stone Town and then later an additional studio in Dar es Salaam. In the 1890's J. B. Coutinho had a brief business partnership with A. C. Gomes.
A. C. Gomes established the very first photo studio in Zanzibar, in 1868. He had a brief partnership with Mr. J. B. Coutinho in the 1890s. His son P. F. Gomes continued the family business in Zanzibar for many years. P. F. Gomes died in 1932. Over those years both photo artists have left us with some marvelous images.
A bit of family history can be seen in the way the elder Gomes labeled his photos. His earliest work is marked Gomes and Company.
Then in a few years we see the label Gomes and Son. Finally we see the label Gomes and Sons.
3. Pereira de Lord and his brothers.
The DeLord brothers, A. R. P. DeLord and Pereira DeLord, were among the most prolific photographers in Zanzibar history. They worked from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s in Zanzibar. No one has more preserved work from early east Africa still available today than do the de Lords.
Pereira regarded himself as an artist and his works always bore the his name and the phrase “Zanzibar. Photo Artist”.
4. Karim Essa Allibhai
5. Ali Pira Harji
6. Capital Art Studio, Ranchod T. Oza and son, Photographers.
Ranchod Oza began working as a photographer in Zanzibar in 1925. For five years he worked for the firm Gomes and Sons, as a junior photographer. Then in 1930 he opened his own shop, the Capital Art Studio, just up the street from the more famous DeLord photography Studio.
His work soon caught the eye of Sultan Khalifa, a known patron of the arts and letters. That began a relationship that would last more than 30 years. Oza became the semi official royal photographer and went on to produce some wonderful images.
Ranchod Oza died in 1983. During his almost 60 year career in Zanzibar he saw and photographed much of Zanzibar's 20th century history. Some see his life as bittersweet; the travel writer Tony Weaver gives this description of his visit to Stone Town in 1999, "... pausing at the Capital Arts Studio where the works of Ranchod T Oza, official photographer of the Revolution, are displayed by his son. Stark black and white portrait's of Zanzibar through the ages, Ranchod was 80 years old when he died in 1983, his world was one which spanned a lifetime of opulence, splendour, bloodshed, terror, poverty and despair. His son sits below the faded Agfa and Kodak ads from 20 years ago, photographing the pretty little girls who come in to show off their festival dresses.”
There are many more examples of the work of these great early Zanzibari photographic pioneers throughout this site.
Please send feedback and share other examples of Zanzibar history to Barghash@msn.com
Collected and Edited by: Torrence Royer