By Ismail Lagardien
I think I have finally (and fully) embraced digital photography. This does not mean that I have accepted it as ‘better than’ film. It simply means that I have stopped hankering for the time when we used film. In fact, one of the very few conservative tendencies I do have is that I prefer black and white photography; of course, digital technology provides for this….
Anyway, it has been exceptionally difficult to shed my love of film. Over the three or four years since I sold my last film camera, the sturdy and reliable Nikon F5, the transition has been difficult. At times I have felt like a luddite, other times I have felt helpless; increasingly I have come to accept digital photography as presenting enhanced opportunities for expression through photography. With increased use of phone apps, especially Instagram, I have, now, engaged this helplessness. There has also been a contiguous transition. I have become increasingly interested in the philosophy of photography, and the contribution of photography to visual sociology - the use of photographs, film, and video to study society and the study of visual artifacts of a society. I have also become interested in the interplay between photography and memory. These interests started when I began to digitise hundreds of negatives that I had held in storage for many years; most of which I placed on my photography blog.
One particular set of pictures (see this link) inspired the idea to write a book-length photo essay on the lives of women and children, captured in the images. Through a rather fortuitous set of circumstances and events – not quite meaningful coincidences – I read a newspaper report about a picture I made in August 1985, in which an activist was beaten by the police. In the report, published more than two decades later, the activist, now a respected member of the ruling elite in South Africa, recalled the events and seemed, to me at least, to have a different set of recollections from my own. (See picture, below)
When reading the report, I recalled the time when the picture was made, and the months that followed the event. At about the same time, I was digitising a series of pictures that I made in Wuppertal, an old missionary station in the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains (my favourite part of South Africa), and started writing down my own recollections of the period – using the pictures as mnemonic devices. What I hope to emerge from these recollections is the journey that took me to Wuppertal, the people I photographed – especially the women and children – and photograph them again, now more than two decades later, and tell their stories of how their lives have changed. (Any publishers willing? Tafelberg?)
Work pressures and other projects make it difficult to get away any time soon. I will, nonetheless, turn to the project in 2013, and try to locate the people whom I photographed in the mid-1980s. As it goes, the brother of one of the young girls captured in the Wuppertal series came across the pictures and has placed me in touch with his sister, who is now, herself, a mother.
In the meantime I continue to explore the relationship between memory and photography – to the extent that I would like to establish an institution for the study of photography and memory. South Africa has a very large and very vibrant media community. I suspect I will not have much difficulty attracting people to display, exhibit and discuss their work and, perhaps, teach. Memory Studies is a growing interdisciplinary academic subject with at least one specialised academic journal. See, also, the New School’s webpage on Memory Studies. All of that is, however, for another time. In four days’ time I leave for Istanbul where I will attempt to capture aspects of the city on film. Well, on digital media. At the moment I am trying to figure out what, exactly to focus on over the week that I will be in Istanbul. I am particularly interested in the idea of intentional hybridity – the conscious fusion of different languages and styles set against each other dialogically. Just how to capture that in a photograph remains hard to figure out. Maybe I will simply write about how Istanbul differs from Dubai, which I visited a few months ago and wrote about, here.
Some references and readings
Parker, Faranaaz, 2010. “Politics chose us”. The Mail & Guardian. 6 August. Available at http://mg.co.za/article/2010-08-06-politics-chose-us. Accessed on 9 December 2012.
Canepa, Matthew (ed), 2010 ‘Theorizing Cross-Cultural Interaction among the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean, Near East and Asia’ ars orientalis volume 38. Full journal can be downloaded from Academia.edu
See, the book, Globalisation and Culture: Global Mélange, by Jan Nederveen Pieterse. This is a blurb for the book:
This seminal text asks if there is cultural life after the ‘clash of civilizations’ and global McDonaldization. Internationally award-winning author Jan Nederveen Pieterse argues that what is taking place is the formation of a global melange, a culture of hybridization. From this perspective on globalization, conflict may be mitigated and identity preserved, albeit transformed. The book offers a comprehensive treatment of hybridization through a series of innovative conceptual tables that are bolstered by textual analysis and compelling examples from around the world. In a new chapter, the author explores East-West hybridities – the idea that globalization is a process of braiding rather than simply a diffusion from developed to developing countries. This historically deep and geographically wide approach to globalization is essential reading as we face the increasing spread of conflicts bred by cultural misunderstanding.