The Madagascan photographer won the prestigious MACK First Book Award with her series on Dakar - and is signing copies of Nothing's In Vain at the Mack stand at Cosmos Arles Books on Saturday
Born in 1983, Emmanuelle Andrianjafy grew up in Madagascar and worked as an engineer in France before moving to Dakar in 2011. Relocation to Senegal proved quite a shock. “It’s very energetic, very hectic, very loud,” she told BJP for the June Ones to Watch issue. “It’s very different to where I’ve lived before. It’s by the sea but it’s not peaceful; the landscape is harsh and dry. I was tempted to not deal with it and just stay at home.”
For a few years Andrianjafy saw the city mainly through a car window but, with her husband based in Dakar for work, she decided she had to get to know the place. Out walking, she became familiar with its streets and alleys, taking a camera to help process the adjustment. “It’s what I know best,” she says. “If I could write, I would do that.”
Her first photographs were black and white, but by 2015 she had become interested in using colour and, with “no background in art at all”, signed up to JH Engström and Margot Wallard’s Atelier Smedsby workshop for some help. “I looked at their images and thought, ‘I just don’t understand what you’re doing’,” she says.
“That attracted me. I told them what was happening, that I was disorientated – that I knew that I wanted to take pictures but I didn’t know where to start – and they helped me over a period of two years.”
She took two workshops back-to-back during that time, conducted via one-to-one Skype sessions and occasional group meetings in Paris. According to Andrianjafy, it wasn’t really about taking photographs, but working out what she want to do; after that, she says, “you can just start and the dots connect”.
She took photographs for another two years, venturing into portraiture and sometimes using a translator. Eventually she felt she could stop taking pictures. Making a book seemed a natural progression but it took three attempts before she was happy with the result. The first dummy – initially titled A Life by the Sea then renamed Nothing’s In Vain – contains images at once beautiful and chaotic, delicate and gory, and freely mixes colour and monochrome in landscapes, portraits and details.
Coming across the Mack First Book Award by chance at Paris Photo, Andrianjafy decided to enter the competition and got a contact interested in African photography to nominate her. She was shortlisted alongside established names such as Poulomi Basu, Amy Elkins and Alix Marie – and went on to win the prize.
“Photographing as an outsider in any country is fraught with pitfalls,” says the award’s founder, Michael Mack. “But Andrianjafy has walked this tightrope in relating her own highly subjective impressions of Dakar. This is not travel photography but a personal diary reflecting her own moods and impressions. Her book brings together disparate photographic tropes and uses intelligent design and structural elements to produce a volume that is both poetic and compelling in its narrative.”
Andrianjafy seems pleased at this – admittedly extraordinary – trajectory but is not overwhelmed. She and her husband will go where life takes them; for now, they’re still based in Dakar, a city she’s grown to accept. “I’m not sure I understand it but I feel more at peace here,” she says. “I’m not always wanting things to be as they were any more.”
Nothing’s in Vain is published with Mack, with support from Wilson Centre for Photography, Kraszna-Krausz Foundation and optimal media, priced £20. www.mackbooks.co.uk www.cosmosarlesbooks.com This article was originally published in the June ‘Ones to Watch’ issue of BJP, which is available via the www.thebjpshop.com