In exploring ideas and identities of ‘Africanness’, was it also important to you to bring across regional or even national distinctions in photographic practice? Do you notice particular trends in particular parts of the continent?
I’ve actually been keen to steer away from looking at the continent too rigidly. For sure, there are certain approaches that are stronger in particular areas. For instance, Southern Africa has a very strong documentary photography tradition and you can trace a practice in portrait photography in West Africa back in fact to the mid-19th century. But most photographers today, wherever they’re based have a very international perspective, in that they’re drawing influences from all over the world in addition to exploring their immediate surroundings and circumstances. So I’ve been more interested in trying to see Africa through the breadth of perspective and imaginative reach that they bring to the subject rather than necessarily trying to impose a geographic structure on top of what they’re doing. I’m interested in Africa as a psychological space, a territory of the imagination as much as a physical territory. Hence the title of the book.
The collection is an important and dazzling riposte to Western representations of Africa. In surveying the work of this new generation of African photographers, what do you see as the most powerful tools and strategies in their own narrative building?
The book is about photographers articulating themselves above all else as artists first, free to define the world on their own personal terms. As a medium, photography has played a significant role in shaping external views of Africa. Ethnographic-style imagery of the colonial period presented Africans as the primitive people of a dark continent. Contemporary news reports still often portray the continent as a place of corruption and disease. Such images gain their power by shrouding bias beneath a cloak of objectivity. By contrast the photographers in the book embrace the subjective, the particular and the personal perspectives as a way to build their own counter-narratives of what it looks like, and how it feels, to live in Africa today.