African Photography: Studio Portraiture, Part 8

African Photography: Studio Portraiture, Part 8

Posted in Photography

In the 2000s, a variety of African photographers used the portrait style to work on cultural projects with a subtle political edge. They deal with disguise from different perspective exposing political, social, and religious symbolism with aesthetic. Using play and provocation, they invite the viewers to think critically about their world and their place within it. They also examine issues of identity and belief throughout a creative visual language.

Masquerade is a complex and otherworldly tradition in which the participants transcend the physical world to enter the spiritual realm. By disguising their subjects with masks and traditional clothes, the photographers reveal hidden realities about society, including those of power, class, and gender, to suggest possibilities for the future. In their images, they expose their vision of mythical figures from religious rituals and performances.

Jackie Nickerson

Jackie Nickerson was born in 1960 in Boston, United States. She started her career in photography by shooting fashion models for high-profile magazine such as Interview and Vogue. In 1997, Nickerson moved to Zimbabwe where she lived for four years. She widely travelled all around the country and in the region where she took many pictures. Over the years, she has developed a powerful body of work which examines the physical and psychological effects of working within agricultural environments in southern Africa. In the Terrain (2013) series which has been published in an eponymous book, she portrayed workers by obscuring their identities through disguise to offer a broad scope for reflection. She is questioning the importance of manual workers in the food production process in a more mechanized world. In doing so, she remind us that our environment has the power to shape us as much as we can shape it. Nickerson’s work is held in many important private and public collections and has been exhibited in several venues.

Farm Worker by Jackie Nickerson

Phyllis Galembo

Phyllis Galembo was born in 1952 in New York, United States. She studied photography and printmaking at the University of Wisconsin and graduated in 1977. She developed an interest in capturing subjects wearing festival costumes. In 1985, Galembo started to travel widely throughout West Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, documenting ritual masquerades over two decades. Her photographic survey depicts people wearing costumes and masks to create mythical figures. Using a direct portrait style, Galembo highlights the creativity of her subjects morphing into a fantastical representation of them by painting their body and gathering material to achieve their look. While still pronounced in their personal identity, the subject’s intentions are rooted in the larger dynamics of religious, sociopolitical and cultural affiliation. Galembo’s photographs are included in numerous public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library.

Maske by Phyllis Galembo

Leonce Agbodjelou

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou was born in 1965 in Porto-Novo, Benin, where he still lives and works. He was introduced to the conventional techniques of studio photography by his father, the well-known photographer Joseph Moise Agbodjelou. Since then, he reinterprets the African portraiture through his own unique approach and individual style. Agbodjelou produces carefully composed photographs by capturing his subjects using a medium format film and natural light. His body of work is an exploration into the culture and identity of his country. In the Egungun (2011) series, Agbodjelou examines the rituals and tradition of the Yoruba. He captured individuals who worship ancestor spirits, wearing masks and standing in resplendent costumes against mud brick walls. Agbodjelou is the founder and director of the first photographic school in Benin which opened in 2013. His work has been exhibited widely in Africa and internationally, and has been included in the permanent collection of museums in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Egungun Masquerade by Leonce Agbodjelou

Zina Saro-Wiwa

Zina Saro-Wiwa was born in 1976, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She grew up in Surrey and Sussex in the United Kingdom. She studied economic and social history at the University of Bristol. In 1996, she started her career as a journalist and producer working for the BBC. In 2008, she turned to the arts with her documentary This Is My Africa about African culture, aired on HBO and at film festivals, museums, and galleries. Several of her later short films exploring alt-Nollywood – an alternative to the Nigerian film industry which is called Nollywood – were shown at the Tate Gallery last year. Over time Saro-Wiwa has added references to folklore, dance, masquerade, and religious rituals along with her natural ability to capture humor to her visual lexicon like in Karikpo Pipeline (2015), The Invisible Man (2015), and Men of the Ogele (2014). These additions have allowed her to expand and grow in order to tell a more complex story about the Niger Delta, Africa, and the global impact of oil production in the world. Saro-Wiwa also uses self-exploration in her work as she refers back to her father Ken Saro-Wiwa – a poet, environmentalist, and human rights activist who was executed by Nigeria’s military regime in 1995.

Brotherhood by Zina Saro-Wiwa


Posted in Photography  |  April 15, 2017