Capturing Africa: Photographers and Series to Watch
By Nomali Cele
In April, Africa lost Malick Sidibé. Paasing at 80, Sidibé was still heralded as one of the greatest photographers the continent had produced and his work remained timeless. His black and white portraits captured the electric: young, carefree Malians in a dance club, a young couple dancing sheepishly. Even the studio portraits were more than just portraits. In his archive, lies a time capsule that says we were always wonderful, always black, always beautiful.
Today, Sidibé’s work tells a beautiful story of Mali from the 1960s onward. It’s in honour of his work, artistry and self-documentation that you are being introduced to photography that is filled with promise. This work will be one day referenced when future generations study this period in African time.
There’s a viral, ever shifting becoming that is happening on the streets of Africa’s big cities. From Cape Town to Nairobi, Harare to Abuja, young people are shifting and adapting. This is nothing new. Young people have been gathering and sharing ideas and idling in groups since the beginning of time.
Zooming in on her creative friends, Jody Brand captures the shifting culture of what it means to young and brown and black with ideas on the continent of your birth, which sometimes – like any home – stings. In both Johannesburg and Cape Town, Brand’s lens focuses in on the dynamic nature of South Africa’s youth.
Brand’s work is mostly documentary in nature: a snippet of a day at the beauty salon, a group of artists (who are going to be legends one day) having lunch in a fast food restaurant, what feels like glances of everyday things that make South Africa what it is today.
Visit Chomma, Brand’s official website.
Where Malick Sidibé’s Mali is black and white and cosy, Martin Kharumwa’s Uganda is bold, and colourful. From Kampala to Kigali, Kharumwa captures beautiful and budding Ugandans as they shape their lives, and hopefully the country’s future. Also a fashion photographer, Kharumwa’s work deals a lot with beauty.
The faces in Kharumwa’s work are alive and the compositions vivid. They draw you in and his full body of work takes you on a trip. The work is more concerned with self-reflection than what the viewer, especially those who are from outside – outside of Uganda, outside of Africa – might be looking to get from it. So, instead of explaining itself and its subject, the space and the time. In a recent interview, Kharumwa said it has taken him years to be able to make photographs that are accepted by a Ugandan audience.
He is not trying to change Westerners’ perceptions of this continent or his country. In an interview with the arts showcase website Between 10 and 5 Kharumwa said, “I would like to engage an East African audience and create work that contributes to, or resonates with our collective perception,”
This is an important part of African art, the decision to make art for its own sake or because you are interested in reflecting those around you back to themselves as you see them. In all their beauty and the ugliness the world makes of them.
The #FeesMustFall movement, along with the many other student protests of the last couple of years, benefitted from having people on the ground documenting and sharing the protests online as they happened and morphed.
The images of the protests were jarring, raw and, for a split second, as you look at them, you wonder whether this really is today’s South Africa because how could they look so much like the past. When this phase of this democracy is dissected in the future – whether that future is good or bad – the images that came out of the #FeesMustFall protest will be one of the sources used to reflect on this period.
One such source who was on the ground is Kgomotso Neto. His photographs are fiery, even when there is nothing burning in the background. His camera caught the protesting students mid-song and their fists high.
Documenting proves to be a key component a pursuit of truth-telling for these African photographers. However, it goes beyond the gaze of the National Geographic style of documentary and curious photography. It’s choosing to reflect the mundane and everyday and still seeing value in it. African Photography is electric.