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Martin Rikli Photographs

Identifier: MS Group 184

Scope and Content

Photographs by documentary cinematographer Martin Rikli taken in Ethiopia in the 1930s. The collection includes three albums, each entitled "Abessinien 1935-1936," containing a total of approximately 800 original photographs and photographic post cards, as well as a fourth album with Rikli's notes describing the images. The photographs thoroughly document Rikli's Ethiopian (Abessinien) expedition, which coincided with the second Italo-Abyssinian War. The collection is particularly useful for research in the history of Ethiopia and North Africa, the rise of the fascist states leading up to World War II, as well as documentary photography and visual history.

The first album begins with images of Marseilles, the European point of departure for the expedition, as well as numerous photos taken on the Suez Canal and Port Said, Egypt. There are numerous photos and postcards of Aden (Yemen), the next stop of the expedition, as well as images taken while traveling by train to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The majority of the photos in this album depict Emperor Haile Selassie, his palace and family, ceremonies and dinners, foreign dignitaries, the urban landscape, and government and religious assemblies. Two photographs are missing from the first volume: page 22 (showing Haile Selassie) and plate 45.

The second album primarily contains views of the people and places in and around Addis Ababa. Although there are some landscape and nature photographs, the bulk of the photos portray the men, women, and children of Ethiopia. Other subjects include schools, marketplaces, agriculture and rural activities, weaving looms, sheep, court hearings, and government officials. In addition, there are a handful of images of Haile Selassie meeting with various Europeans including the German envoy Kirchholtes, who appears in several images in the first two albums.

The third album begins with photos similar to those found in the second album, but the focus turns to military matters as the Italian army begins to make progress with its invasion of the country. The images show Ethiopian military units, training areas, airports, barracks, soldiers, and the general mobilization of Ethiopian defenders. The capture of Addis Ababa by Italian forces is the dramatic high point of the album with photos showing burned buildings, corpses in the streets, and subsequent military parades. The last few pages of the album portray Rikli's departure from Africa.

The fourth album, entitled "Anmerkungen Zur Lichtbildsammlung," contains Rikli's handwritten notes, in German, describing the photos in each album. Many of these descriptions are quite lengthy and include names of individuals, activities, and places shown. Also included is a letter written by Rikli from "Adis Adeba" on April 4, 1936, detailing the situation in Ethiopia to a Minister of State, and a loose photograph showing military personnel camped in large open field. There are also photocopies of a newspaper article and a publication about the Ethiopian trip written by Rikli. The first, written for the Berliner Illustrierte Nachtausgabe in 1935, is entitled "Abschiedsaudienz bei Kaiser Haile Selassie" ("Audience with Emperor Haile Salassie") and features photos of Rikli meeting with Selassie. The second is entitled "Athiopien im Mittelpunkt des Weltinteresses" ("Ethiopia at the Center of the World's Interest") and consists primarily of photographs with descriptive captions.


  • 1935-1936



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Cinematographer, author, photographer, film director. Martin Rikli was born on January 19, 1898 in Zurich. He was educated in Switzerland and Germany, and devoted much of his academic work to the study of photography and cinematography. By the mid-1920s, he was employed by the camera company, Ziess Ikon, and used his spare time to create films. In 1927, he joined a group of researchers traveling to German East Africa and his film documentary of this expedition gained wide acclaim the following year.

Over a span of approximately 14 or 15 years he created dozens of films while working for the German Ufa cinema company. In 1929, he traveled to North Africa to film a documentary on Italian colonization efforts in Tunisia, Libya, and Tripoli. In 1935 and 1936, he spent a great deal of time in Africa during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (Abyssinia). Primarily used as propaganda by the Nazi regime, his work focused on the successes of the German and Italian fascist states, as well as advancements in technology and science. He was widely recognized as a leading propaganda correspondent for the Nazis, and remained a steadfast supporter of the Nazi party throughout the 1930s and World War II. In 1944, he anticipated the German defeat and departed Ufa to return to Zurich, where he continued to create films, particularly instructional films. He died on April 7, 1969 in Zurich.


1.5 Linear feet (4 albums)

Language of Materials



Photographs by cinematographer/photographer Martin Rikli documenting his Ethiopian (Abessinien) expedition, which coincided with the second Italo-Abyssinian War.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Purchased from F. Zisska and R. Kistner, Munich, Germany, 2004, with the assistance of the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of the photos in the Rikli collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC) Photographs of Africa. Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Related Material

The University of Florida also holds G. Pucci's Photograph Album containing photos taken by an Italian soldier in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Libya, February 3-27, 1939.

A Guide to the Martin Rikli Photographs
Finding aid prepared by John R. Nemmers and Dan Reboussin
April 2005
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America