This Research & Knowledge Exchange Doctoral Project brief summarises our priority areas of research interest under the heading of: African Portrait Photography Archives: Reading dress and adornment as cultural agent in colonial, decolonising or diaspora contexts – a taxonomic, ontological and creative practice inquiry.

We welcome all research degree applications aligned with and in response to this brief.

Project brief details

The landmark Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A highlights opportunities for original research into interconnections between African dress, adornment, colonialism, decolonisation and diaspora. Subjects embodied in African portrait photography located in national museum, private and family archives. The project will analyse; sitter, attire, styling, and setting as a conduit into understanding an archive of pictures social, cultural and political meanings. The scope of this approach is explicit in the oeuvre of photographers Seydou Keita – Bamako and James Barnor – Accra/London. 

The project may create, identify an original, or re-evaluate an existing African portrait photography archive; either in Africa or elsewhere. The analysis will seek to understand the collections agency in colonial, decolonising or diaspora contexts. A paradigm shift in the conceptualisation, articulation, interpretation and classification of African portrait photography is expected to elucidate race, discrimination, freedom struggles and gender narratives.  

Theoretical and methodological approaches will draw on a combination of subject disciplines which may include African studies; visual research methods from anthropology, photography, fashion and dress; theoretical perspectives from colonial, decolonisation research studies; taxonomy and ontology. Research as creative practice will be intrinsic leading to exhibition and publication expectations. 

Examples of African Portrait Photography archives available for investigation include the Jacques Touselle archive, Samuel Finlak archive and Joseph Chila archive.

Strategic alignment

Projects deriving from this brief are expected to sit within the Research & Knowledge Exchange strategy and the following department.

Department Fashion & Textiles Institute

All successful research degree project proposals must emphasise a clear alignment between the project idea and our Research & Knowledge Exchange strategy. 

Project brief lead

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De Simon Clarke staff image

Project supervisor: Dr Simon A. Clarke

Dr Clarke has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in printed textiles. His Doctor of Philosophy titled: Motif, Pattern, Colour and Text in Contemporary Kanga Cloth: An Analysis and Personal Response, Birmingham City University involved anthropological research and creative practice driven by fieldwork in Kenya, Tanzania and on Zanzibar. This was supported by a grant from the British Institute in Eastern Africa. His ongoing research and creative practice is inter, multi and trans-disciplinary and can be situated in relation to printed textiles, photography, digital and African arts.

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How to apply

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Project brief & project proposal enquiries

To discuss this project brief, ideas or project proposal responding to this brief, please contact: Dr Simon A Clarke.


Application enquiries

For all other application related enquires please contact the Research & Development team.


T01326 255831

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