Overview participating photographers
Artist Rumanzi Canon collected photographs of mannequin dolls – mostly female, often damaged and nearly all Caucasian-looking and gathered from clothing stores in Kampala. Next to this, Canon projected a great diversity of men, all epitomised by him, on the light-sensitive plate of his camera.
Musa Katuramu began taking portraits of people around him in the thirties of the last century, both commissioned and on his own initiative. How he came to possess a camera is unclear; however, what is clear is that his legacy, well managed by his son, carries great significance. His portraits give an unusual and moving account of people who were photographed by someone who was one of them. In a time and country where this was not matter-of-course, the people in his photographs dropped their guard by showing how they wished to be remembered.
The photo album by William Kayamba was made in the seventies of the last century. Kayamba studied at the Bishop Stuart College in the West Ugandan city of Mbarara to become a teacher. He was part of a photography club for students, which was founded by Elly Rwakoma almost two decades earlier. Kayamba says that he still enjoys taking photographs, especially to document his work. He is a ceramicist and the head of the faculty of fine arts at the Uganda Christian University. The original of this facsimile was handmade from start to finish, with cards of film stars on the covers and telephone cables to bind the pages.
Arthur Kisitu runs a studio in Kampala named The Portrait Home. It’s not a normal studio, but a piece of the jungle in a garage. In his studio Kisitu combines his passions: photography, light and dance. He creates special lighting effects for his photo shoots, invites friends over to dance and, of course, makes portraits of people escaping the day-to-day urban worries, which start within ten metres of the studio door.
In contrast to many fellow-countrymen of his generation, Edward Lule knows exactly when he was born. For, on that day a photograph was taken which he still has. Lule became a sculptor and predominantly made sculptures from wood. A combination of the self-portraits and wooden sculptures, which he made in the early seventies, demonstrates his feel for fashion and his qualities as an artist. The contemporary photographs were made by Papa Shabani, upon Stultien’s request.
Like many Ugandans, Rwakoma Elly is a man of traditions and high moral standards. He was educated as a teacher and made his living as a social worker, but he’s most proud of his achievements as a photographer. Rwakoma was the presidential photographer, a photojournalist, and carried out photography assignments for companies and schools. His contribution to this exhibition focuses on images that he made in his studio and darkroom in the seventies and eighties of the last century.
Papa Shabani experiments with improvised photography studios, which he builds wherever his work takes him. In 2015, he participated in an art event that partly took place on location with a procession of bodabodas (trishaws) touring through the city. In order to prepare himself for his actual work, the travelling studio on a bodaboda, Shabani interviewed several drivers and asked them how they wanted to be seen.
Kitgum is a provincial city in the north of Uganda and lies in the heart of the region that for decades has been terrorised by Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army. Not long after Kony and his rebel movement left the region, the first photography studio returned to the city in 2006. In 2011, there were six studios in operation in Kitgum. A visit to all of these locations became a world tour.
The late colonial state administrators used identity photographs to control people’s movements and to register criminals. This colonial legacy was adopted by the new independent nations and became the model of surveillance-oriented governments. In ROYAL MALAYSIA POLICE series (2012), Malaysian photographer Eiffel Chongcontests the foundational principle of this visual documentation regime by appropriating found identity photographs of police and criminals from an abandoned police station in Kuala Lumpur. His juxtaposition of police passport photographs and criminal mug shots demonstrate Sekula’s notion of “the honorific and repressive functions” of photography. His selection of decaying photographs from an abandoned police station illustrates, literally and metaphorically, the institutional collapse of the state’s visual surveillance apparatus.
In the MARGINAL TRADESseries, Indian photographer Supranav Dash transforms a 19th century ethno-photographic project into a 21st century social investigation. Between 1868 and 1875, the British administration published The People of India, an eight-volume ethnic survey and classification of British colonial subjects. One and a half centuries later, Dash systematically records the rapidly vanishing trades, businesses and professions in India out of the almost 500 types of ‘castes, costumes and occupations’ registered in these monumental publications. He turns what was once hailed as photography’s most significant contribution to social science into a simple social survey, which highlights the medium’s potential power in differentiating, ordering and controlling the others as well as contributing to social change.
The Indonesian photographer Agan Harahapmerges the colonial past with the postcolonial present in his MARDJIKER PHOTO STUDIO,a fictional indigenous commercial studio operating in the colonial era. Working within the archive’s mnemonic function by using the language of appropriation and parody, MARDJIKER PHOTO STUDIOspecialised in inter-mixed portraits: Westerners dressed and posed like locals and vice versa. Harahap regularly shares works from the Mardjlker’s Studio through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Under the name of Sejarah_X, Harahap has almost ten thousand followers in total. This online interaction reveals different levels of knowledge of colonial history and material among followers: some are totally deceived by Harahap’s skilful hoaxes; others perceive his absurd scenarios as trivialising the colonial past. In this interactive process, Harahap interrupts the authority and integrity of the archive by asking viewers to think twice about what it is they see and to question the authorship and ownership of the colonial archive.
Samsul Alam Helal
In an industrial area in Dhaka, Samsul Alam Helal runs a commercial photo studio known as the Love Studio. The studio provides elaborate, painted backdrops and props for locals, who mostly work in the surrounding factories, to visit and symbolically create their dream portrait for posterity, away from their actual social status and reality. A truck driver becomes an action hero, twins turn into Greek goddesses, and a boy who works for a roadside tea stall was unable to let go of a dummy of the artist Shahnaj, which he hugged and kissed in the previous photo session. For Helal and his sitters, Love Studio becomes the catalyst of everyday life, a breathing space from the harsh reality. At the same time, the studio manifests the transformation of the portrait tradition in Bangladesh over the course of history, as the sitters turn themselves from objects of colonial control into subjects of their own hopes and dreams.
Nepal Picture Library
The Nepal Picture Library (NPL) Retelling Histories presentation showcases a collective endeavour in constructing a nation history through family photo studio portraits. Initiated and run by photo.circle (photocircle.com.np), this digital photo archive strives to document an inclusive history of the Nepali people by encouraging individuals and families to donate their photographs and stories to the archive. It hopes to contribute to the study of Nepali photography, generate knowledge, and raise questions about how we can explore issues of memory, identity, and history through images. Since its inception in 2011, the archive has collected over 50,000 photographs from different parts of Nepal.
Indonesian photographer Abednego Trianto draws a mutual relationship between the photography industry and the colonial agroindustry in Java at the turn of the 20th century. His JAVA PHOTO STUDIOS visualises the geographical interconnection between commercial photo studios and sugar factories on the island and describes the socio-economic base of the colonial photographic industry. This linkage reveals the collaboration between commercial photographers and their clientele in formulating the portrait tradition in the colony, offering a subtle depiction of colonial exploitation and power relations. From this same photographic culture, Trianto continues his investigation into the typology of the Javanese aristocrat’s family portrait. In WHAT AM I GOING TO BE WHEN I GROW UP? RADEN AYU OF COURSE, he unpacks how the local portrait tradition maintained and formalised the gender inequality among local elites.
In the STREET FASHIONseries, Thai photographer Dow Wasiksirimimics the 19th century open-air photo booth, practised by amateur and itinerant photographers when they charted the unfamiliar colonial territories to classify unknown ‘racial types’. They utilised flat and neutral backdrops to highlight details of the sitter’s physical appearance as well as to isolate them from their immediate surroundings. Wasiksiri re-contextualises such practise by using colourful and patterned backdrops (which he sources from the local area) to embrace his subjects’ personas rather than to single them out of their context. Furthermore, he did not crop the portraits at the edges of the backdrop, allowing the sitters and helpers to exist side-by-side. His portraits are a raw presentation of his sitters’ everyday lives with its accompanying fluidity and triviality.
Portrait and landscape were the two established genres of photographic representation from the colonies. ‘Types and views’ from faraway lands became the pictorial commonplace for curious Western audiences. In the series MAY IT BE, WITH PURPOSE AND DESIRE,Singaporean photographer Liana Yang challenges the documentary realism claim of colonial photographs. She ‘blindfolds’ the deadpan portrayal of natives with photographs of volatile volcanoes to question the use and truth-values of these two photographic genres. Her riso prints highlight the contrast between the lack of expression in native portraits and the rich geological textures and activities in landscape photographs, a manifestation of colonial repression and exploitation.