Saturday, July 12, 2014

Leopoldville 1924 – Photo Zagourski Opens Shop

Many of the images used in this blog originated as post cards.  These were a popular means for colonials to share their African experience with friends and family back home.  The images can largely be grouped in two categories; those of an ethnographic nature that showed Congolese in traditional settings or ones displaying the architectural achievements and built environment of the colonial endeavor.  It is from these latter that we gain a view of Kinshasa as it was “then”.  Initially, the cards were commissioned and produced in Belgium (Nels, Thils, Peter Freres) but as the technology improved, postcards began to be produced by local photographers in Kinshasa and other urban centers of Congo.
An early photographer
Perhaps the most celebrated and prolific of these was a 40-year old Polish nobleman named Casimir Zagourski who arrived in Leopoldville in December 1924.  A former pilot in the Tsar’s air force and later a Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish army’s fight with the Bolsheviks, his motivation for opening a photo studio is unclear, as he never attempted to trade on his military experience in Congo. But he soon became a leading photographer in the colony.
Casimir Zagourski in his studio in Kinshasa - 1925
Zagourski opened his first store on Ave. de la Douane (which was renamed in 1938 for the late Minister Rubbens and is now “Ave. de la Nation”), in the building currently occupied by the Caf’ Conc restaurant (See 6/28/11). The local agent for Agfa film products, Zagourski produced a series of post-card images of Leopoldville in the 1920s and was invited to cover the visit of King Albert and Queen Elisabeth to the colony in 1928.
Zagourski's studio on Ave de la Douane
A young girl presents King Albert and Queen Elisabeth a bouquet of flowers on their arrival in Kinshasa in 1928
Zagourski was not the first photographer in the town to chronicle the development of Kinshasa and was, in fact, competing with a number of other photographers established in the burgeoning commercial center that was Kinshasa in the 1920s. 

“Andre” produced a series of architectural views old Kinshasa marketed by the Portuguese commercial firm Nogueira. His photographs included the “Righini”, later “Hardy”, bar on Ave. de la Douane (See June 28, 2011) as well as a view of Ave. Renkin, the cross street on Ave. Aviateurs where Monusco has its headquarters.  As late as 1933, Andre’s  services were being promoted in the Cosmo-Kin newspaper  (Feb. 12, 2012)
Andre's photo of Garage Mayo across Ave de la Douane from Righini Bar.  Note Zagourski's studio behind it.
Andre's photo of Ave. Renkin looking towards the river
Em. Bessières was French and worked in both Kinshasa and Brazzaville.  A number of his photos depict Kinshasa at the creation of the Kalina administrative district destined to accommodate the civil servants and government offices of the new colonial capital (as shown in the Jan.17, 2012 post, and July 31, 2011).   Bessières was still in business at the beginning of the Depression, recorded as operating a bookstore and stationers in a provincial business directory in “Congo Revue”, 1931.
Bessiere's photo of Ave Ghilain (Ave. Okito) at the rail crossing (Blvd 30e Juin).
The building on the right was the Perruche Bleue night club in the late 1960s 
Bessiere's Hotel A.B.C. 
C. DeBruyne also produced images in the 1920s of Kinshasa on the eve of its development as the colonial capital.  Views of the Banque du Congo Belge, the Poste, the water tower on Ave Van Gele, the District Building on Ave. Crespel (Bandundu), the Portuguese Club (Gremio Portugalia) on Ave Beernaert and the Aviators Monument.
The Post Office by Cl. DeBruyne

DeBruyne's photo of the King Albert bust on the Place de la Poste
In 1935, Zagourski moved to a new place on the prestigious Ave. Beernaert (Ave. Equateur) next to the PEK store (Nov. 9 2011).  Over time, Zagourski became increasingly interested in capturing the ethnographic heritage of Congo and travelled around the colony and adjacent French Equatorial Africa to produce a series called “l’Afrique qui Disparait”. Yale University has an extensive collection of these images.  In 1937 his photographs were featured at the Colonial Exhibition in Paris.
Zagourski's new shop was in the Mercure Building, 3 Ave. Beernaert next to PEK (R)
The Mercure Building (minus turrets) in the late 1970s
Zagourski was visiting his brother in Poland when the German Army invaded in September 1939, precluding his freedom to return to Congo.  Through the intervention of Agfa, he obtained an exit permit from the Germans and moved to Belgium.  There he developed a kidney disorder, but while under treatment relocated successively to the south of France and Portugal as the war spread into Western Europe.  In 1941 he was able book passage on a book to Congo.  He never fully recovered and died in Queen Elisabeth Hospital (See Jan. 17, 2012) at 4:30 pm on January 10, 1944 and was buried in Kalina cemetery (Cimetière de la Gombe).
A censored letter on Zagourski's letterhead mail after his return to Congo from Europe in 1941
Zagourski’s nephew Marian reopened the shop in 1946 and continued to operate the business.  By the 1970s the business was located on Ave. Cerckel (Ave. de la Paix) until the Zairianization of foreign-owned businesses in 1974 and Marian’s ultimate departure in 1976.  

A Portuguese resident, Diamantino, came to prominence in the early 1930s.  By some accounts a protégé of Zagourski, an advert in 1939 claims he learned his trade at the finest studios in Lisbon.  He opened a shop on Place Leopold, a prime location (See Feb. 3,2012).
Diamantino photo of staff and students at College Albert (Institut Boboto)
A street scene in Leopoldville by Diamantino
After WWII, the Colonial Ministry established the Centre d’Information et de Documentation du Congo Belge et Ruanda Urundi (CID) to publicize the accomplishments of the colonial regime.  This agency was succeeded in 1955 by the Office de l’Information et des Relations Publiques pour le Congo Belge et le Ruanda-Urundi, better known as Inforcongo.  A whole stable of photographers, including Henri Goldstein, Costa, Carlo Lamotte, and John Mulders, extensively documented the achievements of the colonial state. As recently as two years ago, I was able to obtain a number of these images from the vendor at the entrance to Centre Culturel Boboto in Kinshasa.  He probably still has some behind his table, as my enthusiasm may have communicated a market that isn’t there.
An apartment building on Ave. des Aviateurs photographed by Goldstein in the late 1950s.
It is now the Embassy of the People's Republic of China
Joseph Makula was the unique Congolese photographer attached to Inforcongo.  Henry Goldstein, who arrived in Leopoldville in 1947, began mentoring Makula in 1956. A former soldier in the Force Publique, Makula had been assigned to the military newspaper, Sango ya Biso. In contrast to his European colleagues who travelled extensively throughout the colony, much of Makula’s work focused on the “évolué” community of Leopoldville, showcasing interiors that demonstrated Congolese achievements as peers of the Europeans.
The Service de l'Hygiene building in Leopoldville by Joseph Makula
Makula's view of a Congolese family in OCA housing in Bandalungwa
The first technical school for girls in Leopoldville by Makula - 1957
After independence and the departure of the Belgians at Inforcongo, Makula continued to work for the information service, training a whole generation of Congolese photographers, including a woman, Mpate Sulia.  In semi-retirement, he operated Studio Mak in Lemba Commune from 1981-1991.
Female store clerks in 1958 by Joseph Makula
Another Congolese photographer was Jean Depara, who focused more on the night club scene than the architectural aspects of Kinshasa. Born in Angola, Depara was exiled to Bas-Congo in 1943 and in 1950, the year he married, bought an Adox camera in Matadi.  He subsequently moved to Leopoldville and opened a photo studio on Ave. Kato in 1956.  Depara enjoyed a steady clientele of Congolese seeking to formally record their social achievements against the backdrop of his studio.  Around 1957 his photographs caught the eye a young musician, Franco Luambo Makiadi of OK Jazz who invited him to the band’s gigs.  His work documents the embryonic Congolese middle class culture of city on the eve of Independence and in the early 1960s.
Depara's portrait of Franco Luambo Makiadi
A young woman outside the Afro Negro Night Club by Depara
Woman and Solex by Depara
A final photographer with a lens focused on Kinshasa was Eliot Elisofon, who worked for LIFE magazine from 1942-1964.  Although not a resident like the others portrayed here, he made several trips to Congo during his career and the images he produced provided a sensitive depiction of Africa in contrast to the Tarzan and safari films of the post-war era.  Before his death in 1973, Elisofon donated his extensive collection to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington DC.  A number of these photos are featured in this blog, including the view of Café de la Paix on the Boulevard and the parade there in the 1970s (See Mar. 19,2011)
Elisofon (or a member of his team) in Leopoldville in 1951 on Ave. Rubbens.
Place de la Poste is at the end of the street.
The view across the street, Zagourski's original studio (now the Caf' Conc' restaurant)

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