Kyle Weeks, nominated by Vogue Italia's Chiara Bardelli Nonino, crosses genres to portray masculinity and the African body
Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 19 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 750 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate made by our global network of experts. Every weekend throughout May, BJP-online is sharing profiles of the 19 photographers, originally published in the magazine.
Kyle Weeks was 17 years old when he first picked up a camera. He had started to photograph his friends skating around Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, where he was born in 1992, when he met a woman who ran a commercial photography studio. “I went there once a week for an afternoon,” he explains. “She would just let us play around. To be honest, it was pretty profound, because I’d never really considered myself to be artistically inclined at all. It became quite obvious to me that it was what I wanted to do.”
Fast-forward several years, through a degree in photography at the Stellenbosch Academy in South Africa, the country from where he and several friends would later co-found Cape Collective Assist, a crew that sought to develop the careers of emerging creatives in the fashion and photography industries.
Weeks now lives and works out of Amsterdam, and he has shown his photographs – nuanced, sensitive images which straddle established genres with a vibrancy and ease – around the world.
Perhaps you’ve seen them. Palm Wine Collectors, a series he made in 2015 in the Kunene region of Namibia, documenting the long-established tradition of tapping the sap of the makalani palm to make wine, has received wide acclaim. It’s an extraordinary series, comprising eight portraits, documenting the pride and power of masculinity within a fast-fading tradition. Maybe most importantly, it’s about beauty. “I always want to represent people in the best light possible,” he says.
As an African photographer of Western descent, Weeks is hyper-sensitive to the photographic tradition inherited by that continent – one which, all too often, is about images of hardship. Instead he seeks “to give people agency in the way they are presented”.
By reframing the experience of taking photographs – doing so with sensitivity, respect and integrity above all else – he hopes to take a medium once used as a tool of oppression on the African continent, and use it to empower his subjects. It’s a raison d’être that has translated well to his fashion and editorial work, which is often dynamic, bold and tender all at once.
“His sleek, burnished images deal with the portrayal of masculinity and the African body in our globalised world – with a style that crosses documentary, art and fashion genres,” says his nominator, Vogue Italia photo editor Chiara Bardelli Nonino, who discovered his work through that magazine’s photography platform. “He always documents what interests and surrounds him as a complex, multilayered reality, thus demystifying any reductive stereotype.” These unforgettable pictures are fresh and unapologetically future-facing, but they are also steeped in trust. We predict great things.