The first daguerreotypes arrived in Africa only ten months after François Arago officially announced the invention of photography at the French Chamber of Deputies in 1839. In West Africa, explorers and government officials such as the French Louis Bouët and Jules Itier were among the first to employ this technology as they traveled along the Atlantic coast in the early 1840s, however, if the invention of photography coincided with the consolidation of colonial empires in the region, this medium was not the monopoly of Europeans.
African patrons and entrepreneurs quickly picked up the new technology, which circulated and flourished through local and global networks of exchange. Photographers, clients, and images moved across the region often traversing both national and ethnic boundaries. The first studios were often temporary ones, established by professional photographers who worked itinerantly, moving from one urban centre to the next. African American Augustus Washington (1820–1875) was one such photographer who relocated to the West African nation of Liberia, where he opened the first studio in the capital of Monrovia in 1853. Through his advertisements placed in local newspapers, his journey can be followed as he visited the main African capitals along the Atlantic coast.
By the 1870s, a number of photographers, such as the Sierra Leonean Francis W. Joaque (ca. 1845–1900) and the Gambian John Parkes Decker, had taken up this activity, working for both European and African clients.