The camera invades, then reveals.
“A good image is created by a state of grace. Grace expresses itself when it has been freed from conventions, free like a child in his early discovery of the reality. The game is then to organize the rectangle”
The politics of the gaze and the history of photography on the continent have made the work of the contemporary photographer an extra tough one. How do you showcase a world you are fascinated by without falling prey to the usual trappings of the colonial lens?
How do I make meaningful work? How do I get known for making meaningful work? How do I earn while I make meaningful work? These are the questions of the contemporary photographer working on the continent or perhaps, these are my questions.
On the other side of the spectrum, probably amongst the editors, licensing offices, and media machinery of the Wild West, a new question is probably being asked: with the amount of counter imagery coming out of the continent, how do i continue to prove to audience, clients, grantors and funders that I am doing meaningful work asserting a propaganda and selling an idea of a continent at their expense and for their entertainment? Anyways, that’s not why we are here.
I own a Phaidon-published book of Martin Parrs work — his earliest body of work — shot in BW and they reflect his urge to show with bemusement social behavior around him that still inhabits his work today. But they specifically bring to fore an idea which he and conceptualists of the 1950’s and 1960’s toyed with: using photography to express ideas about art and culture than to simply create a record of the world around them. I was crazy inspired by it considering how contrasting the work is to what he is known for now.
Understanding and accepting that the camera invades then reveals is in itself a weighty consciousness, so how do I ensure I present a vision that uplifts a space while retaining honesty and beauty. Many serious young photographers I know struggle with this. I explained to a colleague that my interest moving forward is about a non-frontal documentary gaze. I added that this means I am ensuring that my body of work reflects a collection of honed aesthetic devices that not just define a social point but for their own sake, a celebration of a still two-dimensional image acting as a mirror to accentuate the beauty of the detail, a collector of faces and limbs, idiosyncrasies, gestures and social indiscretions. Product of intense curiosity!
“Who is telling Africa’s story?” an article from the NY Times went round earlier in the year and got reactions to it from many quarters, lately i have decided to react to it as a curatorial question. By trying to avoid the cliché images, have I told stories? How can conceptual imagery still tell an adequate story of a place beyond a safari fit composition for post cards?
By the way, the easiest answer to that NY Times question is “on Instagram” There are probably over 2million photographs telling Africa’s story weekly. Perhaps the supposed half-baked photographers, whom are not commissioned, who didn’t need a brief and art direction to produce images, might be invalid because, their visions don’t agree with a gaze, with an expectation? I am one of those active poster* of images and i wondered if the article meant i would not be getting assignments and brief but then that is also a reverse psychology play on what content and context value meant and what should be valued and who get to decide what value should be,smart people, you gotta give them that — i almost questioned my 10k hours.
A mentor advised me recently to strip the “self taught” label from my bio, her argument was “First of all I hate the use of the world self-taught. I almost see it pejoratively especially when it concerns artist of the global south. I can’t recall which school Henri Cartier Bresson went to but I don’t ever recall anybody calling him self taught but it is routinely used for African artists and now they use it themselves.” so long as the knowledge is sought and tinkered with excellently, source in is only an elitist sorting hat in these regard.
I take her advice very seriously.
The Americans by Robert Frank demystified America as a bare “same like everyone” of us nation and lately even the politics and social media have further exposed it to the world. That body of work showed photographers to come that there is an uncomfortable, as well as illuminating truth when you mute the noise and declutter, when you remove the brief and cultural imperial stance, the world is a ghetto or best put, everywhere has a ghetto. Now how do you seek the beauty in a ghetto?
“There are no right and left, only mighty and low, people who have and people who have not,” heard this lately and mused repeatedly on it especially with the state of global politics.
To watch this particular part of the world with intention is to watch a carnival, crab bucket and a melting pot, interesting as it seems, it is not personal, it is a micro view of how the world navigates itself, although armed positively with logic and resources it is unfortunately fueled wrongly by might, greed and power. Surviving is still for the fittest armed with gold coins, clever propaganda and pregnant* aid.
I for one don’t like to point to my father’s house with my left hand — however dilapidated it looks and this doesn't mean that the continent Africa doesn't have its own internal barriers and challenges but half the time when these fingers are pointed for too long, the dissected revels in being called a victim and thus makes that its excuse moving forward. If I Intend to keep making images and telling stories of these parts to the world then i must be able to visually break free and boldly say to the cliched eye — Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense.
I am making an archive watching the most populated black city in the world — this is a gift and grace, a worthy inspiration on my objective to develop a highly selective visual vocabulary by focusing on the quaint and conceptual and not the concurrent features of inequity and social problems that are already obvious.