Towards critical Zambian photography

Everyday Lusaka has been active for exactly 72 days now. Though this may seem like a short period, it has been enough time for us to realise some of our responsibilities as curators and creators of work made and shared in Africa.

Our project aims to document and share the beauty in the everyday, no matter how inconsequential and rudimentary it may seem. Whilst doing so, Everyday Lusaka has found itself in a much larger narrative – one that aims to create a visual culture of images, actively moving away from what is currently being mass produced in Africa. For many, photography in Africa is often associated with wildlife and sunsets. However, there are initiatives such as @everydayafrica (from which Everyday Lusaka takes its intellectual heritage), the Lagos Photo Festival or Nataal Media, that are just a few examples of how photography created in Africa does not have to be limited to generic safari snapshots which is merely a partial reality to some of us. Surely we don’t have lions and elephants walking about East Park Mall and Cairo Road. Surely.

Let us consider the non-wildlife work that is so common in Zambia. The fashion, event, wedding and street photography scene is constantly producing work that it usually below par. We have the means, subjects and talent to create excellent work instead of the tacky wedding photographs and the overly-edited (almost animated) portraiture, where any notion of imperfection is airbrushed from the face of the subject. We have the potential to create work with intellectual value where the application of a non-superficial concept is delivered effectively. However, we seem to be feeding into a repetitive cycle of mediocrity and unoriginality.

It is the absence of critical thinking, research, and awareness that has further led to this kind of work to not only be called photography, but considered “great” photography. Often, the reason why this kind of work is being spewed out so confidently is the lack of exposure to higher quality industry work, images and art culture. We’re in luck though as the internet allows us to view, connect and comment on work made in distant countries; it not is not necessary to leave Zambia in order to avoid producing average work on a regular basis. This does not mean we must aim to replicate what the West does- after all, we as residents of Africa are in the process of being our own storytellers. Countries within Africa such as Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria are the powerhouses of contemporary art and photography on the continent.

Artists within these countries are recognised because they paid close attention to the critical parts of their work – to its time, casting, styling, conceptualisation and contextualisation. Juxtapose this to what happens in Zambia – where often people seem content to regurgitate what they see with 300+ likes on Instagram; this does not automatically equate it to being good work, let alone original. This kind of habit only further contributes to the repetitive cycle of spreading mediocre work which seems to try to compensate its lack of conceptual understanding with the use of 5 studio lights, heavy postproduction and an expensive model.

It is of course true that art is subjective. What may be visually appealing to you may not be the same for me, and vice versa. However, it is important to contextualize one’s work, and the failure to do so results in stagnation. Exposing yourself to successful work that is similar as well as dissimilar to yours (both are equally vital), will allow you to not only dissect where you need to improve as a photographer, but it will also teach you so much more about yourself – what kind of work you are inclined to, what you would like to strive for and where you would like to go with your photography. This is where the fine line between amateur and professional photography begins to blur.

As mentioned earlier, the lack of critical thinking is another reason why work like this continues to plague Zambian photography. How your photography is received beyond your working team or friends or family will always give you an insight into how effective your visual communication is. Receiving critique (let alone self-criticism), seems like a foreign aspect to local photographers.

Avoiding critique will only stagnate the progress of your artistic projects as you lay in complacency. This article is a part of that process of critique that is essential in any community of artists and content-producers. Take it in stride.

Below is a list of a few useful references of photographers/ brands/ accounts.

Fashion photography:

Documentary photography:

 

Sana Ginwalla

7 Comments

  1. W.B. Miko

    Dear Sana,
    What a refreshing article on photography! I hope this opens up a dialogue that will assure us of a continued discourse on this aspect of our creative processs that is little discussed amongst ourselves.

    I trust that more local photographers can see this contribution as a rare and dearth platform and need that has conspiqouosly been missing in our creative development. This is what I call as ‘correcting the national anomaly’.
    Bravo!!!
    William B. Miko

  2. W.B. Miko

    Dear Sana,
    What a refreshing article on photography! I hope this opens up a dialogue that will assure us of a continued discourse on this aspect of our creative processs that is little discussed amongst ourselves.

    I trust that more local photographers can see this contribution as a rare and dearth platform and need that has conspiqouosly been missing in our creative development. This is what I call as ‘correcting the national anomaly’.
    Bravo!!!
    William B. Miko

  3. Yunoos Ginwalla

    Very good artical on aspects of photography . Keep on clicking.

  4. I like the blunt honesty, I’m not a photography expert, but the entire concept of regurgitation is something I totally agree with. I hope this changes over time. The Everyday Lusaka initiative is incredibly unique in this regard, keep it up!

  5. Very insightful post. am a photographer and would really love to see the Zambian photography industry become more diverse and embrace the different types of photography.

  6. A critique sure to ruffle some feathers , much needed to let the industry really take off with growth 🙂 Great help for self-reflection as budding creatives

  7. Hanif Ginwalla.

    It reflex on all, to utter or not, choices are many but few to acknowledge the reality. Wonderful work of thought provoking. Keep up. It’s perplexed.

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