Beckwith Fisher Archive

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have expressed their intention to place the Beckwith Fisher Collection – the world’s most extensive photographic archive of traditional African cultures and ceremonies - with an institution to be selected in the coming months. In addition to more than one half million photographic images, the Beckwith Fisher Collection includes diaries, field journals, drawings, video recordings, and museum-scale exhibition materials. This unique archive, created during a thirty-year period of dedicated work, encompasses one hundred and twenty distinct cultures from thirty-seven African countries. The institution to be chosen must be a venue for ongoing study and research, committed to making the Collection accessible to students, scholars, and the general public, thereby insuring that the legacy of Africa’s ancient cultures is preserved and understood by future generations worldwide.

Traditions and ceremonies are disappearing rapidly across Africa. More than thirty percent of what is recorded in the Beckwith Fisher Collection no longer exists. What ceremonies remain are being practiced by an ever-decreasing number of people. Through patience and respect for traditional values, Beckwith and Fisher were able to gain the trust and friendship of African people in order to photograph their most intimate ceremonies and sacred rights, some of which had never before been shared with the outside world. While the time for recording has now largely passed, the documentation and preservation of ancient African cultures is imperative to the historical record of human civilization.

The Beckwith Fisher Collection includes images of life, leadership, rites of passage, and body adornment, as well as traditional ceremonies. African leaders, scientists, humanitarians, and artists familiar with the Collection have encouraged its being placed in a permanent home now that fieldwork is largely completed. Going forward, Beckwith and Fisher will focus their time and effort on supporting the host institution to be chosen through the development and implementation of programs to utilize the Collection and through assistance to insure its permanent financial stability.

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have made four films about traditional Africa and published thirteen books, including African Ceremonies, Maasai, Africa Adorned, Nomads of Niger, African Ark, Passages, Faces of Africa, and The Painted Body (3 volumes), Dinka and Lamu: Kenya’s Enchanted Island. They have produced numerous exhibitions of their images in museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the National Geographic Museum, the National Museums of Kenya, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, and venues in Australia, Europe, and Japan. Among numerous awards received, Beckwith & Fisher, upon publication of their double volume African Ceremonies, were honored with the United Nations Award of Excellence from the UN Society of Writers and Artists for “vision and understanding of the role of cultural traditions in the pursuit of world peace”.

Download the Archive’s full List of Contents here…