In 1863, a year after completing his degree in medicine at the University of Berlin, the 25-year-old Gustav Theodor Fritsch embarked on an expedition to South Africa with the view to conducting an anthropological study of the indigenous people of the region. Fritsch's journey was primarily motivated by his scientific interests, particularly in comparative anatomy and anthropology. His background in the natural sciences also equipped him to conduct detailed botanical, entomological, ornithological and zoological observations. Fritsch's three-year expedition through southern Africa gave rise to two major publications, namely his Drei Jahre in Sud-Afrika. Reise-skizzen nach Notizen des Tagesbuchs zusammengestellt (Three Years in South Africa: Travel Sketches Compiled from Notes in a Journal, hereafter referred to as Drei Jahre), which was published in 1868, and his Die Eingeborenen Sud-Afrika's ethnographisch und anatomisch beschreiben (The Natives of South Africa Anatomically and Ethnographically Described, hereafter referred to as Die Eingeborenen), which was published in 1872.

Fritsch's contribution to the anthropological literature on indigenous people from southern Africa was unique. He was an accomplished photographer and collected a comprehensive body of photographic records on his travels that were used as source material for the illustrations in his books. The photographs includes portrait and full-length studies of individuals, images of groups of people, scenes of African and colonial settlements, and landscapes. Of all these, it is the portraits that far outnumber the rest, and despite their anthropological intention, the quality of the portraits is quite extraordinary.

The 234 photographs of 113 indigenous southern Africans reproduced in this book were retrieved from the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. None of these had been catalogued. Fritsch's books and articles have never been translated into English and only a few of his photographs have been published. The material, therefore, remains relatively unknown and his research on South Africa has consequently not been given any exposure. Given this, the aim of this book was to bring together a comprehensive collection of Fritsch's southern African photographs, particularly his portraits, and to complement these with essays by Andrew Bank, Andreas Broeckmann, Keith Dietrich, Michael Godby, Annette Lewerenz, Michael Hagner and Lize van Robbroeck. This book and its accompanying exhibition set out to uncover works of cultural and historical importance from overseas collections, and to make these accessible to researchers and the South African public.