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Hahn + Hartung’s The Forgotten

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© Hahn + Hartung

Photography duo Hahn + Hartung challenge Africa’s stereotypes in The Forgotten, a body of work that documents Kenya’s middle class

“The way Western media portrays Africa is very unilateral,” say Miguel Hahn and Jan-Christoph Hartung, two photographers who form the Spanish and German duo, Hahn + Hartung. “In Germany, we read an article about Kenya’s middle class, which we found really interesting. So we started to do a bit of research about the middle class across Africa. Our goal was to make people rethink their image of Africa.”

With the help of photographer and filmmaker Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann, who is based in Nairobi, Hahn + Hartung started contacting members of the middle class in Kenya for their project, The Forgotten. Quickly enough, their search took on a life of its own. “People we met would give us more contacts, and these contacts would introduce us to others. One day, we were sitting in a restaurant, and a professor was at the table next to us. He started talking to us and when we told him what we were doing, he invited us to his house; he became one of our subjects.”

The feedback both photographers received in Kenya was mostly supportive. “A lot of people felt our project would be positive. They felt the importance of it. A lot of them made a great effort to help us as much as they could. It’s not often that positive reporting is done about an African country. We also had the feeling that people immediately understood what we were doing.” Yet, they add, “at times it was hard to define what makes someone part of the middle class. We met some people who felt offended when we asked them whether they belonged to the middle class.”

When Hahn + Hartung started showing their work at European festivals, they didn’t expect the kind of reactions they received from the viewers. “Most of the people who saw the work were surprised. They didn’t expect these images to have been shot in Africa. In some instances, they thought they were shot in the US. At an exhibition in Berlin, we even heard someone claim that one of the photographs had been faked, because ‘people in Africa cannot afford big cars’.”

While The Forgotten went on show at LagosPhoto last month, both photographers have moved on from the subject, concentrating now on gun ownership in Germany. “We could come back to the topic of the middle class,” they say, “but maybe we’ll focus on other continents. There are just too many good ideas out there.”

MAY 2017 ISSUE:

Female Gaze: New perspectives from the selfie generation. Charlotte Jansen considers a new generation of female photographers who make women their subject.

It’s available to order online now.

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