The Martin Rikli Photograph Collection includes approximately 800 original images by Swiss documentary filmmaker Dr. Martin Rikli (1898-1969), taken on a voyage to and during his stay in Ethiopia during a German diplomatic and propaganda mission in the 1930s. The collection documents defensive military preparations in Addis Ababa, the capital, prior to and during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (also known as the Second Italo–Abyssinian War). Included are three photo albums, each entitled Abessinien 1935-1936, along with a fourth album of Rikli's handwritten contextual “Notes for Photograph Collection” (Anmerkungen Zur Lichtbildsammlung). These albums are accompanied by Rikli’s April 4, 1936 letter describing the situation in the capital, as well as a few miscellaneous items. The collection is particularly useful for research on mid-Twentieth Century Ethiopia, Ethiopian institutions such as the Coptic church, palace events and daily activities in the royal court, the European presence in Addis Ababa, military and diplomatic history, documentary photography, and visual history.

Rikli was educated in Switzerland and Germany, where he completed his dissertation in 1923 exploring the chemistry of photographic film. He captured many unusual images using exotic films and innovative techniques for educational purposes and contributed to the development of motion picture cameras, “most notably in the construction of the lightweight Kinamo, which revolutionized documentary filmmaking” (see: Buckland, Michael K. 2008. “The Kinamo movie camera, Emanuel Goldberg and Joris Ivens.” Film History 20(1): 49-58. available in Project Muse). By the mid-1920s, he was employed by Zeiss Ikon and made movies in his spare time. In 1927, he travelled with a group to German East Africa (present day Tanzania). His documentary of the expedition and the plight of German settlers gained wide acclaim the following year as a work of nationalistic patriotism. Over the following 15 years he created dozens of films while working for the German Ufa (UniversumFilmAktiengesellschaft) movie studio in their cultural film department (many of which were widely distributed in US cinemas). In 1929, he traveled to North Africa to film a documentary on Italian colonization efforts in Tunisia, Libya and Tripoli.

Rikli wrote several books based on his work and travel, promoting German political interests as a war correspondent, and as a Nazi documentary filmmaker. His work focused on the successes of the German and Italian fascist states, supported the Japanese invasion of China and promoted German advancements in technology and science. He was widely recognized as a leading propaganda correspondent and remained a supporter of the Nazi party throughout World War II. In 1944, he anticipated the German defeat and returned to Switzerland, where he continued to create films especially for instructional purposes. He won a prize for his short film “Houles Célestes” at the 1949 Venice Film Festival. He died in Zurich on April 7, 1969.

For more information on the complete manuscript collection, see the finding aid. >>

Works in this collection are intended to be used in tandem with the literature, maps, art, and historical documents held in the Africa General Collections.

Rikli Albums:

  1. Abessinien 1935-1936, volume 1
  2. Abessinien 1935-1936, volume 2
  3. Abessinien 1935-1936, volume 3
  4. Anmerkungen Zur Lichtbildsammlung (Notes for Photograph Collection)

For further research (related materials):

Related manuscripts/archival materials:

Related materials available elsewhere include: