Nataal.com was born in 2015 as a platform to communicate the creativity coming out of Africa. It was launched by Sara Hemming, former art director at AnOther, Helen Jennings, former editor at Arise magazine, and Senegalese actor and director Sy Alassane. Focusing on fashion shoots, long form features and visual essays, Nataal collaborates with emerging artists around the world who are shaping global narratives around African culture.
This year, Nataal published its first annual print magazine, built around the theme “Future Gaze” and containing 336 pages of photography by well-known artists such as Viviane Sassen, Lorenzo Vitturi and Ayana V Jackson, as well as commissions by up-and-coming photographers such as Arielle Bobb-Willis. The photography is accompanied by in-depth editorials covering a range of topics including fashion, visual arts and music, as well as a short story by American-Ghanaian writer Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and articles about contemporary African culture and business.
BJP spoke to creative director Sara Hemming and editorial director Helen Jennings about Nataal media and why photography is so integral to their magazine.
Sarah Waiswa is a Kenya-based documentary and portrait photographer, whose key interests are people and their stories. Much of her work focuses on identity, and explores themes surrounding isolation and belonging in her native Africa. In particular, she is concerned with documenting what she calls the New African Identity – a term she coined to describe a new era of cultural freedom on the continent – and what this might mean for Africa’s future. Born during Idi Amin’s dictatorship in Uganda, Waiswa and her family were forced to flee to Kenya shortly after her birth. This formative experience has affected both Waiswa’s worldview, and her photographic aims; exploring her connection to place is still a central theme in much of her work. Waiswa’s photographs are pioneering in the way that they illustrate social issues in Africa in a contemporary and non-traditional way. She focuses on every aspect of African culture; from religion, to the isolation of people with albinism. Through her work, Waiswa has reclaimed her narrative; she is able to document Africa from an …
“This is a unique time for African photography,” says curator Ekow Eshun. “There’s a wave of thrilling, artistically ambitious talent emerging across the continent.”
He’s gathered some of the best of it for a new show called Africa State of Mind, opening this week in New Art Exchange – the UK’s largest space devoted to culturally diverse contemporary visual arts. Including artists such has Emmanuele Andrianjafy, Sammy Baloji, and Musa N Nxumalo, the exhibition shows off talent from a new generation of African artists, exploring how they interrogate the idea of ‘Africanness’ in their work, and ‘Africa’ as a psychological as much as a physical space.
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.
When Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) was given a Kodak Brownie Flash by his uncle in 1935, his career path took a new route. Originally an apprentice carpenter for his father, Keïta spent the following years teaching himself the technicalities of photography and eventually opened an outdoor studio in 1948 in Bamako Koura. As word quickly spread, it wasn’t long before Malians began flocking to his studio to have their portrait taken. “My experience taught me the positions that my customers liked best,” Keïta said. “You try to obtain the best pose, the most advantageous profile, because photography is an art, everything should be as close to perfection as possible.” As well as ornate backdrops, Keïta kept an array of props in his studio – from paper flowers to Vespas – and occasionally sitters would bring their own. In the black-and-white images he took during the late 1940s and 1950s, Keïta captures members of Malian society radiating with confidence, dignity and grace, epitomising Mali’s emerging freedom from colonialist rule and portraying them how they wished to be …
“This image documents a transcendental fact in the life of the person portrayed: Amadou had just been rescued from the sea by a European vessel,” says Dezfuli. “Apparently his dream is fulfilled. However, fear, mistrust and uncertainty are present, as well as determination and strength.” For his series, Passengers, photographer Cesar Dezfuli took a sequence of 118 photographs in 120 minutes as a boat load of refugees were rescued just off the coast of Libya. These people had journeyed from different countries looking for a better future in Europe.
“Rwanda is a country in progress,” says Jacques Nkinzingabo, a photographer born in Rwanda in 1994 – the year of the infamous genocide in which 500,000-1,000,000 Tutsi were killed by the Hutu majority government. “It’s one of the countries with the youngest population in Africa: most of them were born after the genocide,” he continues. “Of course, they have read the news, books, seen images online, but they didn’t experience it. So now they’re building their country. There is a mind-set now that there is no Hutu or Tutsi anymore; everyone is Rwandese. These people want to look beyond the past.”
The November issue of BJP takes you on a round the world trip with Journeys. From the markets of Lagos to the search for Jesus across the world, these are more than just trips; these journeys will alter your way of looking at the world.
“If you’ve been to Morocco I think you’ll understand that we’re a very colourful country, a colourful people. We see every colour being worn. In Morocco that there is the clash of colours and an attitude not to be scared of colours,” says Hassan Hajjaj. His latest exhibition, La Caravane, is about to launch at Somerset House, the first display for the British-Moroccan photographer in London in seven years. His work reflects on identity and culture, which has featured as a big part of his life and work since moving to the UK from a small port town in Morocco aged just 13.
“I meet people with more empathy and more care towards one another in war situations or in conflict around the world than I have ever experienced in Europe. People want to share the little they have with me because I have talked to them and shown an interest in them,” says Jan Grarup. His work has taken him to the sites of the worst conflicts – from obvious examples such as Iraq and Iran, to forgotten areas like the Central African Republic. Each place he visits, he stays to learn about the culture and customs of the people before taking their photographs. In these places of despair and destruction, Grarup often finds hope and resilience. But the Western world needs to be more active and share the responsibility to help these regions return to a peaceful existence.