Four to Follow #8
Sharing stories from across the African continent by the talented members of the African Photojournalism Database (APJD).
This article is part of the ‘Four to Follow’ series, originally published by Witness. Click here to see the rest of the series on Witness.
From Morrocco to South Africa, and Uganda to Sudan, a personal and patient approach to complex stories links the work of this month’s featured APJD members. Yassine Yoriyas Alaoui Ismaili presents moments of contrast in his particular view of Casablanca, Sydelle Willow Smith asks white South Africans to reflect on their histories and notions of belonging, Esther Ruth Mbabazi highlights the stories of South Sudanese refugees through the objects they traveled with, and Muhammed Salah explores the prevalence of skin whitening in Sudan.
‘Casablanca, not the movie’ by Yassine Yoriyas Alaoui Ismaili
Yoriyas began ‘Casablanca Not the Movie’ in 2014 to show the Moroccan city as he sees it. The title of the long-term project references the well-known 1942 film ‘Casablanca’ that was not filmed in the city itself, but in a Hollywood studio. Whilst traveling, this was often the first and only reference people Yoriyas met would have of his home.
“It is both a love letter to the city I call home, and an effort to nuance the visual record for those whose exposure to Morocco’s famous city is limited to guide book snapshots, film depictions or Orientalist fantasies. Casablanca is a city of diverse cultures, shaped by numerous currents that may seem in opposition to one another”.
“I want to convey the real street life and situations of Casablanca, and highlight the moments where these cultures meet, which we wouldn’t notice if not in a photograph from the perspective of a Moroccan, who was born, grew up and still lives there.”
“I am interested in documenting time. I don’t really plan my projects, they more or less approach me. When I feel that it is an interesting subject I take time to connect with it, follow and develop it to tell a story that is open to interpretations.”
Yassine Aloui Ismaili aka Yoriyas is a Casablanca-based street and documentary photographer. Whilst traveling as a break-dancer, Yoriyas developed his love for photography. Since 2013, his work has been featured online in The New York Times, 6Mois, Stern,The Guardian, and Der Spiegel, and shown in solo exhibitions at 1:54 African Art Fair, Riad Yima of Hassan Hajjaj (2018); Moussem Cities Leading Casa Brussels, Belgium (2018); Presence Photographic Montèlimar, France (2017) and at l’Institut Français, Mekness (2017). Yoriyas was awarded first place at World Street Photography, in Hamburg (2015) and Les nuit photographique Essaouira (2016), was a finalist in the LensCulture Street Photography Awards (2016) and at Miami Street Photography Festival 2017.
‘Un/Settled’ by Sydelle Willow Smith
Un/Settled is an ongoing documentary project that explores white South Africans’ histories, privileges and notions of identity. Through documentary portraiture, interviews, landscapes and personal archives, the project reflects on present conceptions of belonging in relation to histories of settler colonialism. As South Africa struggles to come to terms with persistent social and racial inequality, the project seeks to urge participants and audiences to examine their historical and future roles within a landscape marked by deep social scars.
“The end of apartheid was signalled by a great gesture of forgiveness and hope. But there was no miracle of revelation among apartheid’s upholders. Many white South Africans seem to have taken the release of Nelson Mandela and platforms for redemption and healing, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as absolution. In the last few years, student and workers’ protests have made this narrative — already standing on shaky ground — impossible to accept. #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall have demanded answers of South African institutions, from the universities to the office of the president. The protests also drew from and triggered debates about race and gender that had not happened on such a nationwide scale before”.
“I come from a family of Voortrekkers. They settled in the Northern parts of the old Transvaal before it was a Republic. We are a classical Republican family from a rural area of pioneering stock. I consider myself South African, but it is still a question of what exactly South Africa means. Land means belonging. It is an existential question. It is such a given…Human beings are mobile, especially Afrikaners. Even the urbanised Afrikaner middle class has a definite belonging to the land. When French people get rich they buy yachts. When an Afrikaner guy gets rich he buys a farm. Whenever it is abstracted to something as simple as ‘giving the land back’, what does giving the land back mean?”
“Mlungu means the foam on top of the waves of the sea. I understand why they call us that. Thats where we came from. We came out of the sea on boats. Our forefathers. Shaka Zulu actually said the whites are going to come over the sea and take your country. Its a fact. It happened”.
“I joined Helen Suzman’s party because I believe in justice. She was a lone voice in the wilderness. Like John the Baptist. The sins of the father will be passed on to the second and the third generation. I used to think that is a curse you putting on. Then I thought, you know, its not. It’s just stating a fact. That is what happens. I believe everything has to be paid for. One way or another. Who does that, I don’t know? People who say they never had a choice, they didn’t know what was going on, it’s not true.”
“I myself have done nothing to contribute towards that oppression yet I benefit completely from it, that is something that really messes with me. Also that there are people in the same world as me, as young white people that are so angry about the fact that people are now becoming more woke. The only way you can grapple with it and manoeuvre it, especially as a young person, I know my opinion is going to change 100 times by the time I settle on something… but you have to embrace the wrongs of the past and try and be as respectful as possible to the disgruntlement and anger. If someone is angry with me for being white, I never contest it. It never gets on my nerves, because I completely get it. I personally don’t understand how after Apartheid ended there wasn’t a full civil unrest. I have formed the opinion that it should have been a lot more aggressive in terms of the taking back of land and the taking back of authority and the taking back of power and taking back of businesses … the fact that FW De Klerk got a Nobel Prize makes me think the whole rainbow nation thing is just a fabricated story”.
The Un/Settled text is written in collaboration with writer, Olivia Walton.
Sydelle Willow Smith is a photographer/video director working across Africa focusing on memory, migration and identity. Based in Cape Town, born in Johannesburg, her studies included time at The Market Photo Workshop, an Honours Degree in Visual Anthropology at The University of Cape Town, and a Masters of Social Science in African Studies from The University of Oxford. Smith cofounded the solar powered mobile cinema initiative, Sunshine Cinema, in 2013. She is partner in the documentary production company Makhulu Media founded by her husband Rowan Pybus.
‘I want to be visible’ by Muhammed Salah
‘I want to be visible’ explores ideas of female beauty in Sudan, particularly the pressure for woman to lighten their skin colour. For Muhammed, skin color is closely associated with social class and power in Sudan.
“If you ask me about my own identity, I will say: ‘I am Sudanese.’ But the more I think about it, there is no single Sudanese identity. We are made up of diverse genetic components. There is no pure African or Arab blood; all races and antecedents are overlapping”.
“Walking through the streets of Khartoum, or Nayala in South Darfur, or Port Sudan in the East, I see scarves wrapped around the heads and necks of women with bleached faces. There is a common belief that the darker you are, the poorer you are. The upper class does not work under the harsh sunlight of Khartoum.
Young Sudanese men are taught to prefer light-skinned women by commercials that feature skin-whitening, weight-loss, and make-up products. Some women want to be seen as ‘beautiful’, and as if they are from the powerful tribes of Sudan that have paler complexions and roots in the Arab peninsula.”
“The choices we make about our skin are directed not by race, but by ideologies. Colonizers thought that Arab tribes would lead the country, and that Africans would be workers. They created a feud where the lighter is the master, and the darker is the slave.”
‘The Things We Carry’ by Esther Ruth Mbabazi
If you were forced to leave your home behind in a time of conflict and war, what would be the most important object that you could carry with you? In 2017, Bidi Bidi Refugee Camp in Yumbe District, Northern Uganda became the largest refugee camp in the world as people fled the war in South Sudan. In contrast to the impersonal reports of the camp she had seen in the media, Esther focused on the stories tied to the objects individuals had carried with them.
“It’s hard to survive on the road without food. I have young children.”
“The situation looked horrible in the news: starving children, sick parents, the long distances walked… Most of these images did not represent the refugees in a humane and dignified way. This was my mission, to learn more about the people I photographed through their own personal stories” — Esther
“My father was hardworking and having his evidence of success encourages me to work hard and achieve mine.”
“Because it is mine.”
“These portraits are all made inside the houses to invite the audience into the lives and settings of what is now home for the people photographed. I hope that when the audience sees these images, they reflect on what makes us ‘us’ and what is meaningful in our lives. I am a believer in the impact that empathy has, especially when documenting stories in times and environments of struggle.” — Esther
“For my wife to go to India was a great achievement in her life, I couldn’t leave the memories behind.”
Esther Mbabazi is a documentary photographer and photojournalist based in Kampala, Uganda. Building on her life experiences, her work explores the social, physical and emotional aspects of daily life, especially in rural areas and amongst minority groups. Esther is a Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow 2017, and winner of the Uganda Press Photo Award’s inaugural Young Photographer Award in 2016. She participated in the World Press Photo Masterclass East Africa in 2016.
The African Photojournalism Database is a collaboration of the World Press Photo Foundation and Everyday Africa. The database identifies professional African photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers reporting on cultural, economic, environmental, political and social issues on the continent, as well as sports, nature, and stories of everyday life. The database better connects local photographers with the global media industry and offers a more diverse representation of the African continent.
To see membership criteria and register, please go to apjd.org. To request access to the database, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.