"The area behind the modified Salga-type latrine was originally a malarious swamp until filled-in by order of the Chief Commissioner of Ashanti, John Maxwell, Esq. C.M.G. during the summer of 1924."
The third pandemic of plague (in its bubonic and pneumonic clinical forms) struck the globe between 1894 and 1959. As Yersinia pestis spread from country to country and from continent to continent, it left behind it not only a trail of death and devastation, but also a vast visual archive. It was the first time that plague would reach and establish itself in all inhabited continents. But it was also the first time that any epidemic would be photographed. As plague spread from harbour to harbour, and amongst cities, towns and villages, so did photographs of the pandemic through reproductions in the daily and illustrated press. Rather than forming a homogeneous or linear visual narrative, these photographic documents provided diverse perspectives on the pandemic, which, more often than not, were not simply different from region to region, but in fact conflicting within any single locus of infection. Moreover this photographic production came to establish a new field of vision, what we may call “epidemic photography” which continues to inform the way in which we see, depict and imagine epidemics and their social, economic, and political impact in the age of Global Health.
Located in the British colony of the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana) the Ashanti capital of Kumasi was struck by plague in June 1924, taking both bubonic and pneumonic clinical forms. The disease possibly arrived in the inland city via railway-borne rats. The usual counter-epidemic measures of quarantine, isolation, vaccination and disinfection were accompanied by a wide-spread campaign against rats, which were by then being targeted across the globe as a host of the disease.