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African Photography: Social Documentary, Part 6

Posted in Photography  |  June 29, 2019

African Photography: Social Documentary, Part 6
Social documentary photography uses narrative to explore significances beyond what is strictly visible. Sometimes the narrative is conveyed through the choreography of elements within a single image or the juxtaposition of several images within a set of pictures. Photographers are storytellers of events and moments from the everyday life. They built long-term relationships with people and communities whom they photograph. Their photos represent a social engagement and political statement necessary to reflect on the transformation of their society.

Patrick Wokmeni

Patrick Wokmeni was born in 1985 in Douala, Cameroon. He has been roaming the streets of his hometown to document nightlife, dark corners, bars and nightclubs, and depict the experience of city dwellers from his generation. He has developed his own style of photography through a practice of research, process and visual commentary. Wokmeni’s photographs are directly linked to his homeland of post-colonial Cameroon. His 2009 series documenting Hip-Hop culture in his hometown, explores the lure of celebrity as a way out of oppressive situations and as avenues to presumed freedom. It also addresses ideas about Western culture and anti-colonial social standards. Wokmeni’s photographs give a narrative to the social conditions afflicting his community while being compassionate in the treatment of his subjects, showing the humanity in each although at times in inhumane conditions. In the series Purgatory (2013), Wokmeni captured friends who transitioned from Cameroon to Morocco in the hope of finding a better life in Europe. The photographs depict people who failed to cross the continent, waiting their turn to take boats to Europe.

Purgatory by Patrick Wokmeni

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn was born in 1980 in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in a Sufi household, seeing her mother regularly taking pictures of her family during family gatherings at their house in Brooklyn. This influenced her in starting a career as a photojournalist, contributing frequently to The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC, Vogue, among other publications. Through short documentaries, photo essays and written narratives, Barrayn intends to profile women photographers of African descent. For the past 20 years, Barrayn has been traveling to Senegal, interested in its majority Muslim population and its heavily Sufi-influenced culture. Her last series explores the Baye Fall, a prominent Sufi Muslim community in the country. In 2015, she started photographing women who lived through the Casamance conflict, documenting their stories using portraiture. Barrayn is also the co-author of MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora (2017), a book that focuses on photography produced by women of African descent.

Baye Fall by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Born in 1982 in Braddock, Pennsylvania, LaToya Ruby Frazier grew up in the shadow of the steel industry, which forms the backdrop of most of her images. Influenced by the documentary practices of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, she uses photography, video, and performances to capture social inequality and historical change in the post-industrial age. In her series The Notion of Family (2014), Frazier collaborates with her family and residents in her community to create still life, portraits, landscapes, and aerial views of her hometown to reflect on the impact of the steel industry on her family and their surroundings. With her series Campaign for Braddock Hospital (Save Our Community Hospital) (2011), Frazier juxtaposes images of a Levi’s advertising campaign branding Braddock as a "new frontier" with photographs of her local community protesting the recent closing of the town's only hospital and employer. She has worked with other contemporary issues as seen in her recent series Flint is Family (2016), which traces the lives of three generations of women living through the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Notion of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier

Mimi Cherono Ng’ok

Mimi Cherono Ng'ok was born in 1983 in Nairobi, Kenya. She studied Photography at the University of Cape Town, graduating in 2006. Her experiences growing up between Kenya and South Africa have engendered an intimate body of work that carefully balances feelings and state of mind. Her work documents a feeling of always being afloat, using the camera as a vehicle for memory and a tool for the observation of her own experience. In 2008, Ng’ok produced the series I am Home, which addressed the sensitivity, subtlety, and complexity of life in South Africa as an African. As much of her work, this series evolve around issues of home, displacement, loss, and identity. In 2015, Ng’ok made a collection of images in the cities of Kigali, Abidjan, Kampala, and Nairobi in memory of her fallen friend Thabiso Sekgala. The artist notes that the series entitled Do You Miss Me? Sometimes, Not Always was recorded “to remember and to understand.”

Untitled by Mimi Cherono Ng’ok