APhI at Image Afrique’15, Basel – Inside and Outside… Photography

A guest post by Rosario Mazuela and Jürg Schneider

From 12 to 26 June the five winners of POPCAP ’15* were on show at Image Afrique in Basel. Five outstanding photographic projects from Filipe Branquinho, Zed Nelson, Tahir Carl Karmali, Zied Ben Romdhane and Romaric Tisserand attracted an interested crowd. In addition to these photographs the show featured photo installations by History in Progress Uganda (HiP Uganda) and African Photography Initiatives (APhI).

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The cube behind a poster of Image Afrique ’15 © APhI

Under the programmatic title “Inside and Outside… Photography” African Photography Initiatives (APhI) is presenting a wooden cube measuring 4x4x2.5 metres. The outer walls are covered with images depicting the photographic act; actors and places of the production of photographs: the studio where people pose, details inside the studio, photographers with their cameras in front of colourful backdrops and the portraits of their clients. Inside, the cube emulates an African sitting room with all its stereotyped features (including music, a fan, a TV and some photo albums) thus showing the everyday consumption of photographs in a semi-private context.

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Two sides of the cube and a view inside the sitting room © APhI

Visitors are introduced to the installation through the following text which is printed on the space next to the entrance door:

Inside and Outside… Photography

Photography reached the African continent soon after its invention was made public in Paris in 1839. Practised by African photographers as from the 1860s it soon spread from the urban centres of the coast into the hinterland and became the widespread means of visual self-representation and documentation it is today. Living proof of African’s deep interest in photography and its common practice across the continent are the huge number of photographs that have survived in private and public collections in Africa and the West. Photographs as the material embodiment of individual and collective identities are being treasured in photo albums and carefully set in parlours and private rooms. Yet, many collections are endangered through neglect and lack of proper infrastructure. Different to the West personal cameras were, and still are, not common in most parts of Africa. Professional studio photographers but also ambulant photographers do most of the photographic work, a situation which has, however, changed to some degree in recent years with the emergence of smart phones and cheap digital cameras.

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An exterior wall of the cube showing portraits covering the period 1880 to 2010 © APhI

The three-dimensional photo installation is representing two dimensions of photography: one in which photographs are taken and another showing photography’s everyday use, its consumption. Posing is a feature of either dimension; people in front of the camera, photographs inside one’s home. Both actions are signifiers of pride, self-assurance and, in essence, the self. Both dimensions penetrate each other, they are as permeable as a door is an entrance and an exit at the same time. Thus, the title of the photo installation can be read in various ways. It reminds us of the private and public nature of photographs and photographic practices. Photographic images serve as personal and public mementos, objects of exchange between friends and families and on the occasion of official ceremonies. Some photographs will eventually move from private contexts into the public sphere and vice versa thus changing meanings and visual impacts. At the same time, the title reflects the double indexical nature of every photograph to which a third party, the beholder, is connected. According to the French philosopher Roland Barthes we cannot penetrate into the photograph but in that place we can walk right into and around the everyday practices of producers and consumers of photography in Africa.

Photographs carry different meanings and memories for all of us. Valued and handed down from one generation to the next, wilfully neglected, treated carelessly or contested by state actors and individuals the objects of the African photographic archive are worth protecting and care.

* Jürg Schneider, co-founder of APhI, was part of the jury for POPCAP ’15.

Some more pictures about Inside and Outside… Photography:

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Inside the cube, a visitor looking a the photo albums © APhI

 

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Inside the cube © APhI

 

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Inside the cube: the sitting room. On the back an “evolué” family in the Congo. Circa 1960. “HP.1956.32.671, “collection MRAC Tervuren ; photo J. Makula (Inforcongo), MRAC Tervuren ©”  © APhI

 

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Two photographers in their studio. Bujumbura, Burundi, 2007 © APhI


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