Saturday, September 29, 2012

Flamboya by Viviane Sassen

In the previous post, I compared the visual flair of the images in the Afronauts to the work of Viviane Sassen. Here's an example of what I  meant.

Viviane Sassen's 2008 book ‘Flamboya’ brings together photographs made in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Ghana. Sassen herself, Dutch and white, lived in Kenya as a little girl. Since 2001 she returns to different parts of the African continent and takes photographs featuring black people and studies of foliage and landscape. This makes some critics anxious. Arguments about colonial legacies and inherent power imbalance raise their heads but, frankly, could be dispelled simply by looking at the pictures. There is too much collaboration here and it just doesn’t feel coercive. One suggestion is that pictures ‘of’ people are not only ‘about’ them. It could also be said that pictures can be ‘with’ someone, when photography is used as a verb. Furthermore, these super-nuanced images do little to reinforce stereotypes as has been argued. I don’t remember seeing anything like this. Eye-popping patterns and dappled shadows merge to conceal and reveal. Bodies engage with one another in unexpected configurations or simply end where ambiguous sinewy lines begin. Real flowers collude with printed ones to trick the viewer. Human forms gesture and articulate a particular, rather than general, presence in the vertical depths of equatorial shadow.

The format of the book is unusual. Between a short story and an essay there are 49 photographs over 40 illustrated pages, 17 of which are narrower, a little over a half of the width of the others. These create new potentials: concealing, revealing and demanding interaction. Tiny formal rhythms are implied. Their scale occasionally seems to be defined by the extent of the 6x7 format which was used in making these pictures. It’s another of Sassen’s playful propositions but in physical format.  -- Jason Evans

Viviane Sassen // Flamboya from haveanicebook on Vimeo.

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