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  • 标题:Flash Afrique: Photography from West Africa. . - Media - book review
  • 作者:Laura Adams Guth
  • 期刊名称:Afterimage
  • 印刷版ISSN:0300-7472
  • 出版年度:2002
  • 卷号:July-August 2002
  • 出版社:Visual Studies Workshop

Flash Afrique: Photography from West Africa. . - Media - book review

Laura Adams Guth

Gerald Matt, Thomas MieBgang, eds.

Vienna, Austria: Kunsthalle Wien, 2001

Gerald Matt and Thomas MieBgang edited this series of photographs, artist's interviews and essays to accompany the 2000 exhibition "Flash Afrique" held at the Kunsthalle in Vienna. Categorically they present two elements of West African photography: studio portraiture and documentary. The first is exemplified in its "Golden Age" by the black and white photographs of Seydou Ketto and Malick Sidibe and moves to the colorful present with Philip Kwame Apagya, whose surreal backdrops with aspirations to consumer culture heighten a conflicting awareness of post-colonial dreams and realities in West Africa. The second vein features Dorris Haron Kasco, Bouna Medoune Seye and Boubacar Toure Mandemory, whose destitute subjects offer a raw glimpse of African city streets and their inhabitants.

The reproductions offer a feast for the eyes, but one is left with many questions that can be summarized in a desire to better understand the social contexts. This is where the editors achieve their success. By collaborating with artists and theorists, they provide writings and interviews that usefully hint at the story behind the picture. The book's layout of short texts and interspersed images, or vice versa, has a rhythmic order and quality that makes this investigation into "the complex relationship between Europe and Africa in the 21st century" not just accessible, thanks to the format, but also enlightening.

The book begins with Olu Oguibe's anecdotal experiences of the mid-to-late twentieth-century West African studios, dubbed a "laboratory for ritual alchemy," where re-inventing oneself offered an indispensable mirror of hope and dignity. Thomas MieBgang provides a broader history of portraiture in the region and identifies the main problem associated with one culture reading images that are specific to another, proposing a deeper understanding of the "numerous coded messages" woven into this highly stylized form of visual communication. Simon Niami gives an appreciative description of chaotic African cities as well as a background in African attitudes toward modesty and mental illness. Such frameworks go a long way toward reading the documentary works of Kasco and Seye.

Contextualization is of obvious importance when one deals with a project that is itself a reconstruction. Here the editors, theorists and artists offer numerous disclaimers to say that these images were, for the most part, not created for Western art consumption. These are photographs created to serve their own communities, and they continue to function as visual memories; records of individual and social histories--a life apart from their more recent recognition in the White Cube.

The editors are forthright in their acknowledgment of this paradoxical territory in the foreword: "Flash Alrique does not wish to freeze Africa into 'a set of colonies policed by Western desire.'" This tall objective must be what initially drove them to gather such essential writings on their topic. The book is intellectual while remaining quite readable, and several articles offer bibliographies. Future scholarship may even use the groundwork provided here to challenge the language inevitably used by Matt and MieBgang themselves, who described the European exhibit as a "spotlight" on "little-known" work "that deserves to be brought out of the shadow." To their credit, such colonizing presumptions are overshadowed by the assertion that context is key in understanding West African photography.

Kent Klich: Children of Ceausescu with an essay by Herta Muller. Umbrage Editions/108 pp./$40.00 (hb).

Key Film Texts by Graham Roberts and Heather Wallis. Arnold/256 pp./$12.95 (sb).

Mise-en-Scene: Film Style and Interpretation by John Gibbs. Columbia University Press/128 pp./$17.00 (sb).

Movies on Trial: The Legal System on the Silver Screen by Anthony Chase. The New Press/204 pp./$25.95 (hb).

COPYRIGHT 2002 Visual Studies Workshop
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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