By Tamary Kudita
- What goes into the work for you to capture the perfect image? / What does it take to capture the perfect image?
Concept development: I like communicating what we each experience in our everyday lives and bringing those unique moments to life through photography. I believe that the most powerful images come from confronting distorted narratives. Every time we represent something we alter it and slightly change it. I ask myself questions like; what might have been understood at that time? or what might have been hidden at that time? Why certain narratives are deemed more important than others. Once I have a storyline with a precise shooting location in my head, I create sketches of what I would want my model’s costume to look like then work with a local designer to make these designs come to life.
Lighting: Great lighting is key when it comes to image-making. Light has the ability to set the mood of the image so take advantage of whatever light source you have at your disposal. I usually love shooting in overcast weather because of the diffused light which compliments my models
Being aware of the background is also key in capturing a good image: including variation and changing up the scenery allowing me to take a diverse range of images.
Keep practicing: Practicing has a ripple effect because the more you practice something the better you become, which increases your confidence allowing you to take more risks.
- How did you feel/ What was going through your mind when you got the news that you had won the Sony World Photography award?
Initially, I was in disbelief that my image had such an impact on the judges. Prior to entering the competition, I had looked at the work of previous winners and their work was different from my aesthetic. For me this reiterated the fact that there is no need for comparison, your uniqueness is what makes you incomparable.
- What does this award mean to you and your future work?
Now that I am on the international radar I am hoping to have more physical exhibitions, gallery representation and residency invitations. The most significant one would be connecting to a wider audience with a great appreciation for African art.
- Tell us a bit about your ‘African Victorian’ image, what was the motivation behind it?
African Victorian is an environmental portrait captured as a frozen moment from a series of images that explore a broader narrative. The idea behind the photo was to create a visual narrative about an individual and encourage a dialogue of who the individual is beyond their physical appearance. I aimed to create a short biography by incorporating real African elements used by the individual in everyday life. This vignette was further elaborated by the individual’s attire which was woven seamlessly into the larger context of her identity. I also incorporated a minimalistic scene in the background which allowed the African hut and the individual to become one with the frame. All these distinctive choices were part of the tale that established the mood and created a backdrop for the narrative to begin. In this photograph, you are looking at a portrait of a nuanced depiction of an African woman. The model is essentially an extension of myself as someone who has a dual heritage. This heritage consists of the Shona culture I was born into and the western culture into which I assimilated. The African identity is multifaceted and I wanted to bring out her personality by emphasizing her adornments. Through posturing and gestures, I was also able to communicate the strength of her character. Through portraiture, I reimagined the African identity as one which is laced with hybridity and regality.
- What’s your inspiration as a photographer?
I like to think of myself as a visual activist who uses a camera as a tool. I believe that photography is likened to perception therefore the image is to be seen as a composite of signs. Its meanings are multiple and most importantly constructed. I saw an opportunity to become a photographic author who could use the medium to craft visual renditions of reality especially in a climate where one-sided narratives are advanced. Being a black female photographer I believe that the history of photography for black women is still being written and I needed to ask myself ‘What am I adding to the history? What am I doing to tell the stories of black women and photography within the larger context of fine art and photojournalism?’ With this in mind, I went beyond the aesthetic norms of photography and used it to fulfil its evidential function in exercising my subjectivity.
- Why did you choose to pursue a career as a photographer?
From a theoretical point of view, I was first introduced to photography through Duggin Cronin’s invention of daguerreotypes. Not only was I fascinated by the style but also the fact that he used photography as a mode of documentation. I wanted to do quite the opposite and use photography as an art form. The field of representation is a site of ongoing struggle and in my work, I attempt to draw awareness to the fact that history can be narrated in many different ways. In the visual canon of western art, you would find that a black body could only ever enter a story as naive, unsophisticated and indignant. I undermine this simplistic reading of the black body by reminding people of a forgotten African elegance, which is embodied by the choice of garments, hairstyles and accessories.
- What do you like most about being a photographer?
Being creative affords me the ability to view the world through an equalizing lens. I believe that photography oscillates between the documentary and the artistic: on the one hand, it is a snapshot of reality; on the other hand, it is an aestheticized construction of reality or a metaphor. Working within those parameters grants me a sense of authorship which I use as a tool to tell narratives that would otherwise go unseen.
- Among your works, which one is your favorite and why?
The artwork I enjoyed creating was the first-ever piece for my African Victorian series. Initially, I had not envisioned creating a series but as the artwork unfolded I saw potential development for African women themed series that could be stretched cross-culturally, each showing unique points of view. African Victorian was created in direct response to one of Rembrandt’s paintings titled ‘Saskia as Flora.’ In this image, I wanted to portray the women in Rembrandt’s life. Approaching this complex theme in the artist’s private life I chose to use one model to play the role of the woman. In an attempt to demythologize my recreations of Rembrandt’s work, I decided to borrow local African elements such as African print material and domestic tools such as a sweeper (mutsvairo), to add a layer of complexity whilst maintaining relatability. I thought about the image of the black female in western art and what it would mean to place an African woman in the realm of mainstream art history. Creating the outfit was the most exciting part. I drew sketches of the model’s costume then I worked with a local designer to make these designs come to life. Reconfiguring the African dress into Victorian attire was the most significant part because in doing this I inverted the power indexed by Victorian dress, whilst using clothing to unpick inherited binaries affecting our understanding of differences of the post-colonial identity.
- Whose work has influenced you the most?
I am mostly inspired by Zanele Muholi. Subversion is implicit in my elected mode of practice and my choice of representation demonstrates a subject position congruent with her work. She seeks to tell a transparent narrative about black lives by constantly unsettling the comfort zones of racial and cultural memory.
- Have you done any collaborations before?
No, however, it is something I am working towards. One of my many dream projects is to work alongside Yinka Shonibare. I think that his Victorian Dandy series would make for a great collaboration with my African Victorian. It would be titled ‘Victorian Dandy meets African Victorian’
- What’s the most difficult part of being a photographer for you?
One of the personal challenges I faced was finding my target audience. It can be really difficult since feedback plays a very important role especially at the beginning, but the more I started to create the more my audience grew. Talent and persistence come as a package, and having your own outside the box path can take you to new heights whilst staying rooted in your identity.
Images from Tamary Kudita
Originally published in the 3rd Ndeipi Newsletter