A TIERNEY FELLOWSHIP RETROSPECTIVE at the Market Photo workshop
25.06.2020 - 06.07.2020
“How had they fallen into this condition when, indeed, they were as human as everyone else? They started to run out into the sunlight,
then they turned and looked at the dark, small room. They said: 'We are not going back there.'"
- Bessie Head,
RECLAMATIONS revisits the longest running mentorship programme in the history of African photography that continues to support young photographers in realising visions that reflect both the aspirations and disquiet of their communities. Since 2008, the Tierney Fellowship in South Africa has been leading in the identification of emerging talent in contemporary photography; the fellows represent a cross-section of photographic concern that remains urgent in our transitioning societies. Awarded at the Market Photo Workshop, these fellows refocus our attention on matters such as gender, race, migration, the divide between urban and rural, land restitution, spirituality, national and familial memory and reclaims them from the histories of their making.
How do we reclaim present lives that have been forgotten by history? Photographic excavation is Mabula ka Ndongeni’s method for confronting a ‘post-apartheid’ society with that which it refuses to remember. The price of armed struggle for the nameless foot soldiers who fought for a freedom that appears to have forgotten their sacrifice. Titled, Ukugrumba, an isiXhosa term that means to ‘to dig up’, Mabula ka Ndongeni’s series reclaims this national betrayal that continues to haunt our national politics as both political critique and personal testimony, for Ukugrumba is part of her own family’s story.
Celimpilo Mazibuko’s In Jus’this bares the failure of the South Africa’s Reconstruction and Development Programme to address what he calls, “historic land injustice”. Mazibuko reclaims the practice of documentary photography to visualise a felt betrayal of the people by the state in the community of Palm Ridge, Katlehong where his family was moved to from the nearby informal settlement of Tsietsi.
The reclamation of space and place is photographic practice that remains ongoing. Beaches in South Africa remain complicated sites of recreation both within the history of photography and the experiences of black South Africans today. Durban beach front has always been an iconic beach, that during festive seasons especially, receives significant media attention for the size of crowds it attracts every year. Matthew Kay’s The Front reclaims the ebb and flow of Durban’s beach front from its spectacular reputation and pays attention to its ordinary peculiarities that would easily go unnoticed.
The portraits of late Thabiso Sekgala’s Homelands are psychically-charged interventions that figure moments shared between the photographer and the space he encountered in the former ‘sovereign’ apartheid states of Bophuthatswana and KwaNdebele, which were reclaimed into a democratic South Africa as the North-West and Mpumalanga provinces. Sekgala has left a visual document of an exploration of interior spaces and rural landscapes that ended too soon. Yet, its short intervention reclaimed the prefix of ‘home’ and ‘land’ in the vexed noun of ‘homeland’.
Gumbi’s Re-imagining Sharpeville reclaims the place of his upbringing from its association with the brutality of the apartheid past, which is remembered once a year with a national holiday on March, 21st that commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. A place of a massacre was not the idea of Sharpeville that Gumbi grew up in. He was troubled by the lack of contemporary narratives about his community and set out to reimagine this historic place through images that document its present realities. Re-imagining Sharpeville is a series that performs the necessary work of recuperating lived experiences from what remains in the aftermath of violent histories.
Tierney Fellows are ‘vulnerable observers’, being of the stories they tell, which is both an ethical position in photography, and an educational ethos of the Market Photo Workshop. Tracey Edser’s Amelioration is a testament to this practice. She turns her camera onto her close friendships and what she calls, ‘recovery culture’ to not condemn the suffering of addicts or the trade in illegal substances, but rather to look at their lives with compassion for this unacknowledged illness. Her story is as intertwined with those who have let her into their private struggle.
Lebohang Kganye’s Ke Lefa Laka complicates the assumption that reclamations are bound up in truth. While the loss of Kganye’s mother and her surviving archive of personal photographs are real, Ke Lefa Laka reclaims family memories and its photographs by repurposing them as what she calls, “vehicles to a fantasy”. Ke Lefa Laka’s process of fabrication, reclaims the memory of Kganye’s mother by subverting a visual and psychic relationship between the living and the dead, having the artist appear in family photographs alongside her deceased parent, as her mother’s ghost or shadow.
Moussa John Kalapo’s Other Worlds is an intimate portrait of one man’s life, ‘Saba’, a fellow Malian, who has not left his African city for a ‘better life’ in Europe, but rather has chosen to stay. Other Worlds looks into the personal and public spaces that ‘Saba’ calls home and reclaims the symbolism of an individual life to stand in for a collective experience. Kalapo also repurposes a life such as ‘Saba’’s for the task of creating new narratives for biographies that can be discarded by the oblivion of our political economies, official archives, and news media. Other Worlds uses documentary photography as a renewing medium for replenishing the ways that a life such as ‘Saba’s’ can be seen and related to.
Simangele Kalisa’s Clothed is a series of self-portraits that questions, “how identity can literally be fashioned by dress”. The photographer wears female uniforms of independent African churches, and fashions her statement about the role that dress plays in contemporary syncretic belief systems. Kalisa did not ask women to pose in uniform, but rather appropriated the sartorial practice and reclaimed it on the surface of her own body, to also reclaim the bodies of black uniformed church women who came before.
Sipho Gongxeka’s Skeem’ Saka reclaims an image of black masculinity from the imagination of mainstream media, that during the late 90s, the period after the legal end to apartheid, still traded in a destructive image of township life as being dominated by dangerous men. Some may say that not much has changed. However, South African society struggles to reclaim the men in our communities, in the face of the epidemic of gender-based violence. By refiguring images of black men, through the lens of a black man, who questions the toxicity of masculinity, Skeem’ Saka remains an urgent intervention.
Is Reclamation always dependent on visibility? Mack Magagane’s …in this city reminds us that darkness is as productive for illumination, as is the light. Magagane’s largely nocturnal take on the inner city and the surrounds of Johannesburg reclaims the night as a time and place for shedding light on ways of seeing our built environments. …in this city reclaims a perception of the city from its association with danger and envisions the notoriety of Johannesburg at night as an under-considered architecture for witnessing what Magagane calls “the possibility of something beyond the image”.
Ho tshepa ntshepedi ya bontshepe is a Sesotho proverb that means to expect an outcome that never materialises. Tshepiso Mazibuko’s series title laments what South Africa never became after legal apartheid ended and simultaneously is a rebuke of the ‘born-free’ label attributed to her generation, born after apartheid. Ho tshepa ntshepedi ya bontshepe is an exploration of generational expectations and experiences between those who experienced apartheid and the generation of those “born-free”, whose lives the earlier generations deferred hope for a better reality. What is there to reclaim when wounds are not healed but inherited?