So, I’ve just had a delve into documentary bodies of work that involved photographing imaginary scenes which could happen in reality, with examples from Mohamed Bourouissa and Tom Hunter. Now it’s time to look even further into the role of the imagination within this genre, by exploring ‘performative’ scenes, which are then digitally manipulated/reconstructed. The photographers that we are asked to research are Hasan and Husain Essop. Their work was on display back in 2011 as part of the V&A Figures and Fictions exhibition, presenting the work of 17 South African photographers, all of whom live and work in South Africa, with the images being made between 2000 -2010.
I attended this exhibition, really enjoying their work and their approach to representing Muslim identity, and some of the taboos in Islamic culture and society.
View the video on Hasan and Husain Essop at the V&A exhibition Figures and Fictions and write a short reflective commentary in your learning log.
On watching the video, and finding more examples on their work to display on my blog, I have exactly the same opinions now as I did then.
The sense of split personality is emphasised in most of their composites by the obvious differing modes of attire, either dressed in designer clothes, traditional garb and occasionally army camouflage gear, the twin’s ‘doubles, triples and multiples act out contradictory stereotypical identities.’
Initially the images appear playful, boys being boys, scenes full of ‘comic overacting and physical antics.’ However, on closer inspection there are many signs and symbols that indicate a more sinister undertone. For example, the brightly coloured outfits worn in Pennsylvanians are owned by ‘a notorious Cape Town gangster’, and the site where Thornton Road was shot, is the scene of an apartheid-era massacre.
Our work questions global and local hegemonies. We explore the influence of Western popular culture and the distorting effects it has on existing religions and cultures. Internal conflicts are expressed through performance.
Pit Bull Training (2007) portrays this conflict with less subtlety.
Shot in Cape Town’s illegal dog-fighting arena, the photograph shows two pit bulls braced to fight each other, Essop clones waving a fluffy toy dressed in American colours between them like a red flag to a bull. The conflict between East and West then, is an internalised one; the Essop clones playing both victim and aggressor.
Although heavily constructed, I would still argue that these bodies of work should be considered part of the documentary genre. This is due to the images documenting personal struggles with regards to a modern clash of cultures. Some of the scenes are simple reconstructions of everyday events, such as going to the mosque, playing basketball or going to the beach. Others are more complex, with subtle signifiers which underline the issues faced by many young people; growing up with traditional parents in a non-secular, or multi-cultural society.
Their work is a prime example of: work that demonstrates how subjectivity, imagination and authorship affects the production of documentary photographs. (course notes, p.60) And as Clarke stated: ‘If the documentary photograph wants us to accept it on the terms in which it is given, then it equally needs to be looked at in relation to the way it was taken.’ (Clarke, 1997, p.165)
Clarke, G. (1997). The photograph. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Katherine Jacobs, Hasan and Husain Essop http://artthrob.co.za/09apr/artbio.html %5BAccessed 07/04/2017]