‘Bringing Forth Our Own World’
Living in the glut of images that make up the media that encompasses our consciousness and unconsciousness, it is uncomfortably clear to some of us the extent to which the world’s we are presented with have little resemblance to the one’s we inhabit.
Every so often, this glaring fact smacks me in the face and I’m brought up short and left wondering how on earth it is to be corrected. The simple answer is to go out and make the images that more truthfully reflect the world we know. But as any practicing professional would know, it’s easier said then done.
For one, there’s the issue of resources, in time, transport and accommodation logistics then distribution and publishing. Most professionals, for instance, obtain their images on a salaried job, the images are then owned by the publication or institution that employed them. The few who are able to get the images on their own steam, so to speak, then face the challenge of disseminating them. There are a few fortunate professionals who have the resources to follow most ideas they have, exhibit and publish.
This issue of following personal projects to fruition, exhibiting and publishing is of course a world wide one. But confronting the ‘developing world’ the dearth of images is especially acute. One wonders why? Are we just not able to meet the grade, the high standards set by the western world? And of course this is largely true and confirmed by the extraordinary high number of amazing images one sees from the west. But why is this so? Of course when we realize that photography is largely technical in nature, practiced with a precision instrument that is usually costly, especially when entering the realms of the professional, its clear that those with the resources are going to be in pole-position.
I have to remind myself that it’s going to be a long time before people in my part of the world, and I mean the people that represent the black majority, will be in a position to produce the volume of images that will begin to turn the tide. A beginning has been made of course, since the 50’s in South Africa, through the likes of the Drum magazine photographers. Images have been produced by black photographers that have met the criterion I speak of. There were also other special individuals who against all odds broke the mold, people like Ernest Cole and Alf Khumalo, and later Santu Mofokeng. Of course there have also been white photographers who charted new courses and made images which where critical and outside of the norms of the day, and to all of them we are grateful for the images which survive to this day as monuments to our past.
And recently, through the efforts of schools like the Market Photography Workshop which was created by David Goldblatt, photographers have emerged who continue to make their mark and significant inroads to turning the tide. But the power of assimilation is strong, and as many as we become, many will conform to the aesthetic of the day, and be consumed in the dominant culture. Schooled in white establishments, employed in white owned media houses, and in the cases of marginally black owned media houses, the media producing models remain largely the same, unchanged, chained to the profit logic.
Our paradigm shift is still to come, and I don’t believe it necessarily needs a vast majority to come into effect. The few avatars who will significantly shift the media landscape are amongst us already or just around the corner, our time has come.
The need to bring forth our own world is in the making, the conditions for it to happen are in place and it’s simply a matter of time. No lack of resources will continue to hamper our imperative to make the world as we know it and need it to be.
What world will that be? I don’t have an answer to that, except to say that the worlds most black people have inhabited have to a large extent gone unrecorded and unmediated. The worlds that are being created in the rapid transitional phase, are again still largely unmediated, except occasionally to meet some sensationalist media agenda.
It is a fact that seems to escape most media people that there exist many different media models throughout the world. The world is certainly not homogenous when it comes to media practice. Witness the models of Scandanavia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Central Africa, Asia and the East. It is only a matter of time before a model becomes apparent to the south of Africa. Of course, perhaps the dominance of the white economy and its links to the West through Europe and the USA will retain a Western flavour to the style of image making. But this will not restrain the avant-garde who will rise and break through these largely sterile traditions, which the more they change, the more they stay the same.
So the challenge is to Africans of all colours and persuasions to rise to the challenge of imaging our land in ways that ‘bring forth our world’, that represent our cultures in ways that bear meaning and dignity. I don’t mean to promote mere patriotism in this call; but avoiding the trap of pandering to the call of capital and the insatiable demand of the monied press, going forward and producing images that are in accord with our calling as creatives and being at the vanguard of talking to who we are.