Vernacular Photography - Africa and India

Thursday, 19 February, 2015 - 12:00

– WiSER warmly invites you to our opening symposium of 2015 –

Collections, Preservation, Dialogue
Vernacular Photography – Africa and India

18th and 19th February 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 18th February 2015

Public Events
 

09h00 – 10h30

Lecture
John Peffer (Ramapo College of New Jersey, WiSER)
The Way We Look: Desire and Privacy in the Study and Display of Vernacular Photography
(CHAIR: Pamila Gupta)

For historians, the time of discovery of the importance of vernacular photographic forms is passed, as is the notion that these images can always or only speak for themselves as found objects for aesthetic contemplation by others. The parameters of vernacular imagery on a global scale are now generally known, and it is understood that these images (such as uses of portraiture within families) are historical documents only insofar as they themselves were interventions into the everyday, that is, that they are not merely images of people and "how they looked." Photography studies now may move into another aspect of inquiry, one where self-criticism plays a vital role, and where the nature of our own looking is also part of the history told. Through a series of stories from my own work with family images in South Africa, this talk seeks methods to address critical issues related to privacy, secrecy, patrimony, and even iconoclasm that everywhere arise in vernacular image studies but are not always foregrounded in writing and display for a wider audience.

 

17h30 for 18h00

Opening Exhibition at the Origins Centre
“The Other Camera”
by Paul Weinberg (University of Cape Town)

 

Thursday, 19th February 2015

Public Lectures

09h00 – 10h30

Paul Weinberg (University of Cape Town)
The Other Camera – An Accidental Archive
(CHAIR: Jonathan Klaaren)

Vernacular photography in South Africa is an elusive phenomenon. While much money has been spent on visible heritage symbolism with strong links to a struggle narrative, like memorials, street names, statues and understandably the legacy of Nelson Mandela, very little is assigned for photography archives in general. The Other Camera project, drawn from an assembled collection of more than ten photographers and collections, works to address the erasure and exclusion of this important aspect of our visual heritage and culture.  You will find this camera at most events, rituals, traditional celebrations, and social occasions. With its strong migrant and urban historical links, the ‘other camera’ evolved into a distinct genre and claims a different view of what it means to be African. The photographers who work in this way are called ‘street photographers’, generally hustling for a living in an informal sector marked by intense competition and narrow margins. They often mix two distinct styles – the documentary approach as well as the set up portrait, either in a studio or on the street.  These rare exposures of this genre to the public speak to the skewed way South African photography is understood, acknowledged and archived.  This paper/presentation will explore this rare and accidental archive and attempt to assign its value within South African and African contexts.

11h00 – 13h00

Liam Buckley (James Madison University)
Spiritual Realism: The Sacrament and Observance of Photography in Ashram Communities in India
(CHAIR: Achille Mbembe)

This presentation examines the centrality of producing, displaying and archiving photographic portraits of saints within the devotional practices of yogic monasteries (ashrams) in India. How did photography shape the experience and practice of worship within yogic monastic settings?  In turn, how did the philosophies and practices of monastic yoga organize the work of photographic image production and preservation? I will focus on two particular ashrams and their respective portrait practices.  Firstly, accounts surrounding the photographing of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886, Kolkata, West Bengal) show how saints themselves understood early camera technology and how being photographed in states of meditative consciousness (samadhi) could produce images of the sacred that would, in turn, deepen and enrich the experiences of their devotees. Direct disciples produced the images and created services of daily worship of the holy presence of Sri Ramakrishna. Second, the photographic practices of the Divine Life Society, an ashram founded in 1936 in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, led to monks establishing their own studio darkroom by the late 1940s. Photographing and printing images of the ashram’s founder, H.H. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj (1887-1963), evolved as part of "guru-nishtha"—steady dedication to a holy teacher. In addition to still photography, the monks created daily devotionals within the ashram based on a multi-media ministry consisting of 8 and 16 mm cine-film, audio recordings, radio broadcasting and book printing.  Social science scholarship on portrait photography tends to focus on the socio-political conditions of the imagery. It typically focuses on sociological concerns with identity and representation.  In contrast, this presentation on the portraits of saints reveals the relationship between photography and modern experiences of spirituality, cosmology and divinity.   Practicing ashram photography served in the historical construction of an observing subjectivity highly attentive to the sight of holy presences in everyday life.

Jennifer Bajorek (University of Johannesburg)
“What does the world want to do with all these photographs?” Activist Approaches to the Archive in West Africa
(CHAIR: Pamila Gupta)

In April 2014, Resolution and a team of international partners convened a workshop to provide technical training in preservation and preventive conservation in African photography collections, and to open a dialogue on challenges facing collections and archives in West Africa. 20 participants from 9 countries in Africa joined professional photograph conservators, curators, cultural heritage managers, and cultural policy activists from the US, France, Germany, Senegal, and Benin, at the École du Patrimoine Africain in Porto-Novo (Benin). This presentation will discuss theoretical and practical elements of the event--funding models, curriculum design, institutional outreach and regional and cross-regional cooperation--and will venture a few hypotheses about the potential for new forms of activism in and around photography archives in Africa today.