Unreal Nature

July 29, 2015

Colour

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… black-and-white photography … sets up its subjects as anthropological case studies, … [C]olor [on the other hand] … contests the anthropological tendency of reportage and restores its subjects to their position as people with names and proper places — that is to say, as humans.

This is from the essay ‘Photography After the End of Documentary Realism: Zwelethu Mthethwa‘s Color Photographs’ by Okwui Enwezor found in the Aperture monograph, Zwelethu Mthethwa (2010):

” … I started taking colour portraits at Crossroads — an informal settlement outside Cape Town. Photographs of informal settlements prior to the elections in 1994 were mostly black-and-white images. The photographers weren’t shooting for themselves, they were on assignment and black and white was used to suit political agendas of the time. For me, these images missed a lot of the colour of informal settlements. I wanted to give some dignity back to the sitters. I wanted them to have a sense of pride, and for me, colour is a dignifying vehicle. The fact they’ve allowed me into their personal spaces meant that I had to dignify them.”

Mthethwa_interior01
Zwelethu Mthethwa, from his Interiors series, 1995-2005

In responding to what he perceived as the undignified manner in which black-and-white imagery situated its subjects, Mthethwa was clearly reflecting on the relationship between photography and humanism. In a way he was responding to ubuntu, a philosophical idea derived from Zulu that defines intercultural and interhuman relations; it describes how human beings respond to each other in social contexts. In a sense, ubuntu not only frames, it is, in the classical definition of humanism, an affirmation of human dignity.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The call for recognition embodied in ubuntu is captured by the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu, ngabantu” (A person is a person through other people). This is not unlike the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s idea of “being for the other.” These articulations of humanism and concern for the other register powerfully in the struggle between black-and-white photography, as a medium that sets up its subjects as anthropological case studies, and color, which allegedly contests the anthropological tendency of reportage and restores its subjects to their position as people with names and proper places — that is to say, as humans.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: