Cold War Photographic Diplomacy: The U.S. Information Agency and Africa

Research output: Book/ReportBook - authoredpeer-review


Cold War Photographic Diplomacy locates photography at the intersection of African decolonisation, racial conflict in the United States, and the cultural Cold War. The emergence of newly independent African nations onto the world stage precipitated a contest for influence on the continent by the Cold War superpowers. One response of the US government was to mount a campaign of photographic diplomacy, which for the first time considered African populations as its audience. At the same time, the increasing global visibility of racial injustice and the struggle for civil rights undermined US claims to transcend colonial racism. Concentrating on the period from the mid-1950s through to the late 1960s, this book traces the role of photography in the appeal of the US to Africa, underpinned by a faith in the capacity of the medium to cross cultural boundaries and foster new relations, and its presence in the public media spaces of late colonial and postcolonial African cities.

Based on extensive research in the archives of the United States Information Agency (USIA), the study examines several dimensions of this program of photographic diplomacy: the practice of photographing the political, cultural, and educational visits of Africans to the US, which provided a space for the imagination of international cooperation and friendship; the representation of civil rights struggle for international audiences, presented as an example of democracy in action; and its picturing of a world of integration and racial co-existence. Consideration is given not only to the careful scripting of images and picture stories, but also to the cultural and pedagogical work that photography was expected to perform as it was inserted into the visual culture of cities across Africa through magazines, posters, pamphlets, and window displays.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages300
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2024


  • Cold War
  • Photography
  • Africa
  • Diplomacy


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