Curation is arguably one of the more underappreciated talents within the arts. The process of conscientiously stringing together a series of works from multiple artists, blending and arranging them to represent a fascinating visual maze as an innovative three-way dialog between creators, consumers and curators.
Now in its third edition, African Lens volume 3 is
a testament to the beauty and importance of this discipline. Page by page, it is strikingly evident to see the meticulous degree of detail and attention that has been dedicated to providing a platform for each photographer to both visually and textually deliver their story in a framework that only enhances their work.
No one photographer takes on the task of telling a story outside the scope of their lens. Instead, our gaze is directed at appreciating and understanding the narratives of the visions laid before us, whether seemingly simple or captivatingly complex.
We journey from Enugu, Nigeria to Khartoum, Sudan, from Dadaab, Kenya, to Matare, Zimbabwe, Bui, Ghana, and more, uncovering scenes of life and nature that subvert and challenge our awareness of places rarely paid attention to in the world of visual storytelling.
As with previous editions of African Lens, volume 3 is both familiar as it is unfamiliar. Absorbed and completely engrossed in this comforting paradox, its only disappointment – if one can call it that – is that it leaves me wanting more.
The intriguing front cover of Aaron Yeboah Jr.’s African Lens Volume 3 greets us with a sense that this book aims to invite not only those who are more traditionally inclined towards fine art photography, but also those inhabiting the world of fashion photography and digital art.
With its signature clean, sleek and minimal design, as well as bold colour and typeface, AfricanLens Vol. 3 begins with a dedication to the late Komla Dumor, Ghanaian presenter of the BBC programme “Focus on Africa” who passed away in 2014.
This gesture is a fitting acknowledgement to the generation which helped lay the foundation in Western media for an alternative African narrative. AfricanLens Volume 3 seeks to honour and reflect each photographer’s perspective. While sometimes leading to stylistic unevenness, this is a curatorial gesture of respect to the contributing artists.
In the book, each new section is marked by a location icon showing the bearings for each geographical region. Structurally, most photographs in the book are arranged into two-page spreads and smaller image-sets along with
a paragraph of text written by the respective photographer.
An interesting stylistic element (as seen on one of Steven Chikosi’s pages,)
is the arrangement of two images per spread which reads like a filmstrip and creates a narrative that seems to leap out of the page. The photographs come in both colour and in black and white, and while some images do fall into ‘classic’ modes of African photography (i.e. elder portraiture, chieftaincy, traffic and market scenes,) most photographs are outstanding.
The first of these is Enefaa Thomas’ photographs – we get a view of an epic mountain landscape in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, taken with perfect composition. Soon after this is a page that seems to be modelled on a social media templates, with a thumbnail image in the left hand corner on top of the main image. Similarly, the hashtag symbol that is introduced later with Kgo-Motso Neto’s portraits moves closer to social media styles.
In another section, Hisham Abdelaziz Mamoun’s photos of urban Sudan are set up like diptychs, in structural and aesthetic dialogue with one another, reminiscent of Edson Chagas’ 2013 series, Found Not Taken, found objects in Luanda are placed against simple urban backgrounds. Poignant, graceful and with a certain kind of melancholy, Mamoun’s photographs places both object and human subject in minimal landscapes, at times coming close to Wang Yuanling’s watercolour-like photographs of Chongqing, China.
Many of the works in this book break from typical photographic framings of capitalist post-modernity. They offer us panoramic or birds-eye views of environmental, urban, cultural and political scenes from Africa.
There are a few arrangements however, particularly mid-way through the book, that depart in strange ways from the overall arc of the book’s style.
For example, Khadija Farah’s section commences with a sudden large quote –a stylistic element not seen before – and at times her images are placed in such a way that they seem to be vying for space.
Similarly, sudden changes towards a denser, collage-style look, and then back again to a decentred ‘emptier’ look, are less successful dynamics. Yet while this mid-section might be weaker compared to the preceding ones, Farah’s series also has one of the most beautiful photos of the book – a herding scene from the Ifo 2 refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, filled with ethereal colours – blue tint against goat fur, orange skies and dust red. It’s truly breath-taking.
We then move to the soaring work of Eric Gyamifi, whose expert black and white landscape photos have incredible evocative power and are accompanied by information about Ghanaian history.
Following this is Mutua Matheka’s mirror-image and Rorschach-styled photographs, which boast an inventiveness deserving of the title “A Different Face of Nairobi.” Darryl Kwaku Otten then finally moves us into the vocabularies of fashion photography, Afro-hipsterism and pop culture – which have their place contemporary African cultural milieu.
AfricanLens Volume 3 finishes elegantly with an afterword by Dynamic Africa’s Founder and Editor Funke Mankiwa, commenting on the skill and discipline demanded by curatorial work, and praising the visual story-telling journey that Yeboah has laboured to put together for us.
Indeed, this is a very strong issue of the African Lens series, an edition that made me smile all the way through.