“I have still never seen the first work I made as a photographer,” says Sabelo Mangleni, who started his career as a delivery boy for a local photographer in his hometown in Driefontein, four hours drive east of Johannesburg. The photographer he worked for had been asked to shoot a wedding but, unable to attend herself, asked Mangleni to cover it – sending him off with a camera around his neck and a crash course in photography. After the wedding the newlyweds quickly picked out the images they wanted to remember their day with – so quickly, Mangleni never got to see them.
Still, the experience of looking for a good photograph and working with people from within a community, got him hooked, and in 2001 Mangleni moved to Johannesburg and joined the Market Photo Workshop. Set up by renowned documentary photographer David Goldblatt in 1989, this well-respected organisation supported young black photographers during apartheid South Africa.
It was an excellent start in photography, but arriving in Johannesburg, Mangleni felt alienated. “I couldn’t understand what people were saying,” he says, describing the struggle to communicate with people in English, which he was still learning at the time. To avoid speaking, he channelled his feelings into photographs of the buildings and architecture, which lead to his first, and ongoing, series Big City.
“I’m always picking things up and taking them home with me,” says Matthew Craven. “Just general knick knacks.” His finds include succulents, unusual rocks, and little bits of pottery that he displays in his home inTopanga Canyon, Los Angeles. But out of all of the things he collects, which also includes records and vintage NBA t-shirts, perhaps his strangest and largest collection is of school textbooks. The books usually date back to the 1950s or 60s, but “the older the better” says Craven. After finding a copy he likes in a second-hand book store, he’ll trawl through the internet, contacting sellers that may have many more in storage – usually schools or libraries. “Personally, it satisfies me to be able to find these old materials and preserve them in some little way possible,” he says. He then uses these books as source material for intricate collages, in which every element – from the images themselves to the paper they’re stuck on – are made out of found materials. Part of what satisfies him about this work …
“You’re always looking for that time where everybody forgets you’re there and becomes themselves. Surprisingly, they do, sometimes to the detriment of what you knew about them,” says Eugene Richards, who has devoted his career to documenting social injustice in America, and injecting himself into intensely personal situations.
Richards’ style is up-close and unflinching, “ironically it’s the process of becoming as not there as you possibly can, if you hang around long enough people don’t care”, he says. Though his photography has been described as poetic and lyrical, he has never thought of himself as an artist. “I went in with some knowledge of photography, but mostly with the idea of providing information,” he says.
Before becoming a photographer, Sean Hillen was a tinkerer. As a young teenager, one of his favourite pastimes was to take apart his grandfather’s old cameras and then piece them back together again. It wasn’t long before he discovered that with a bit of tweaking he could fix a brand new 120 roll of film into an outmoded 620 camera. “I did that, I got them developed, and I was immediately addicted to photography”.
Hillen grew up through the Troubles in Newry, Northern Ireland, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. “It was utter chaos,” he says. “I knew people who got killed, and I knew people who killed other people”. Hillen and his four siblings would lie awake in bed at night listening to gun battles, which were so frequent that they were able to distinguish between the sounds of different weapons.
History confirms it – the first photobook was made by a woman, with British photographer Anna Atkins publishing Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843, a year before Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature. Still, many historians, including Allan Porter in his introduction to The Photobook: A History, dismiss Atkins’ work as “photographic prints” rather than photography.
“Unfortunately, this is far too often emblematic of the uphill battle women photobook-makers still encounter when we talk about their history,” says Russet Lederman, co-founder of 10×10 Photobooks. “As we conducted research for the How We See project, we discovered that although women photographers produce relatively equal numbers of photobooks to men, their representation in the higher-profile sectors was, and still is, disappointing.”
Only a small percentage of the 400 books that Ben Krewinkel has collected and featured on his website, Africa in the Photobook, are actually African. Many are historical publications, political pamphlets, or children’s books, written, photographed, and published by Europeans – including old colonial texts, which seem to obsess over hairstyles and traditions of scarification. Even the books by contemporary African photographers are mostly published in the West. As a collection that covers more than a century from 1897 to 2018, Africa in the Photobook follows the changing visual representations of the continent through the medium of the photobook – and soon it too will be transformed into a series of photobooks.
Krewinkel, a Dutch photographer, curator, and educator, is working with South African publishers Fourthwall Books on this series, and hopes to publish volume I by the end of 2019. Focusing on Africa under colonialism, it will include a long historical introduction, 40 case studies, and plenty of space to show large spreads from the books. Volume II will sketch a path from the beginnings of decolonisation in the 1950s to the late 1990s, marking the end of Apartheid and also the “re-evaluation of African photography”. Krewinkel then hopes to create a third volume, focusing on contemporary African photo books.
In 1997, a document titled A Study of Assassination was released by the CIA as part of the Freedom of Information Act. It is believed to have been created in 1953 with the purpose of instructing agents on how to kill, and was released with a collection of files relating to the 1954 CIA-backed overthrow of the-then newly-elected leader of Guatemala, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. The operation in Guatemala was lobbied for by United Fruit Company, an American corporation that traded in tropical fruit, mainly bananas, and which wielded huge power in Central America at the time.
When he found out about these documents, George Selley was instantly captivated, and his new project, A Study of Assassination, combines pages from the manual with archival press images, banana advertisements and Cold War propaganda. BJP caught up with the recent London College of Communication MA graduate to find out more about this project and his approach to images.
“I’m usually looking for things that surprise me, things that have a deeper significance, a sense of humour, I suppose. I’m always open to what happens in life, because it tends to be more interesting than anything you can imagine.”
On 7 September 2017, just before midnight, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake hit Mexico’s southern coast, the second strongest earthquake in the country’s history. It was felt by 50 million people across Mexico and, in the heavily affected states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, killed dozens of people and left over 100,000 homes damaged.
When the earthquake hit, Andres Millan was living in his hometown in Bogota, Colombia, preparing for a four-month residency that would start in November at Casa El Ocote, a gallery and cultural centre in Oaxaca. At quarter to midnight, alerts started to pop up on Millan’s mobile phone. When he switched on the news, the first image he saw was of the Mexican flag at the Municipal Palace in Oaxaca, lit up by lights coming from police cars.
My home is my castle references these first images that Millan saw from Colombia when the earthquake hit. “I wanted to recreate the light from the police car, so the photos are made with two flashes, one with a red filter and another with a blue one. The mixture of colours made the images acquire that pink colour,” he explains.
“A lot of my work has undertones of female sexuality and ritual, because photography was a place where it was okay to explore those things,” says Tabitha Barnard, the oldest of four sisters raised in a close-knit, religious community in rural Maine. “In photographing my sisters, and in trying to find a private place to do that, we kind of found this escape. I could always just tell my parents it was make-believe.”
Growing up, the sisters were surrounded by stories of witches and monsters, often read to them by their mother with the intention of scaring them. They ended up becoming a topic of fascination instead, inspiring elaborate fantasy games the sisters would make up and play together. As Barnard got older, she began to look into the darker stories in the Bible, and was captivated by tales of wicked and promiscuous women like the Witch of Endor and the Whore of Babylon.