Dialogues, from Africa: Juan Orrantia and Vincent Bezuidenhout

ATKV Pretpark from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

Post by Juan Orrantia

"Dialogues, from Africa" is a series made in response to Alejandro Cartagena's running series in fototazo, that wants to extend the dialogue across the Atlantic, but further south. Having been based in Johannesburg for some time now, I have always felt the need to create a space of dialogue where photographers working in Africa and Latin America learn about each other's work, but that is not filtered through the galleries or mainstream media of the global north. The world we live in is not one where limits are traced easily, and within these spaces photographic traditions are increasingly varied, recognized, ignored and reconceptualized. Africa is as complex and varied as Latin America, and this series wants to recognize the current engagements of photographers from the continent with their own histories and the current environments of contemporary photography. In so doing we hope to open a space that enables a dialogue with their peers in Latin America.

The first post in the series was with Alexia Webster and the second with Musa Nxumalo.

Juan Orrantia (b. Bogota, Colombia, based in Johannesburg, South Africa) Relying on the evocative as a form of documentary his photographic works use banality and imagination as sites from which to explore experiences of the aftermath of violence; the lives and affects of postcolonial cities; memory and the cocaine trade; and the legacies of anticolonial thinker Amilcar Cabral. Awards include the Tierney Fellowship in Photography, solo exhibitions in Germany, Colombia and South Africa, as well as participation in various group shows including the New York Photo Festival, Le Cube (Paris), Cape Town Month of Photography, Bonani Africa Festival of Photography and Ethnographic Terminalia (New Orleans). His work has appeared in fototazo, Foto 8, Sensate and other online media platforms and journals.

Vincent Bezuidenhout is a visual artist born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He holds a Masters Degree in Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.

Bezuidenhout is a Tierney Fellow and was part of the 2013/14 Photoglobal Programme at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

He currently lives and works between Cape Town and New York City.

Green Point Common from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

Juan Orrantia: Where are you based? Why?

Vincent Bezuidenhout: I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but over the least year I have been part of a special residency program called Photoglobal at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

As a South African artist making work about South Africa it is important for me to spend time here, but it is also vital for artists to travel and expand on their experiences. I always feel invigorated and seem to understand South Africa even better after having left for periods of time and returning.

JO: How and why did you starting working in photography?

VB: I started making photographs by taking a photography course at my local university when I left high school. I knew I wanted to work in the arts, but was not sure how to go about it having grown up in a very conservative community in the death throes of Apartheid. Coming from this environment, where art was the furthest thing from people's minds, photography seemed like a more accessible medium, as something that anyone could engage with as opposed to the other mediums.

Strandfontein Pavilion from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

JO: What are your projects about, and major themes in your work?

VB: My process is research-intensive and investigates the relationships between identity and power and the authenticity of memory in both past and present histories in South Africa. At the same time I am also interested in the changes and perceived limitations of the medium of photography as it continues to shift away from its origins.

In 2010 I was awarded the Tierney Fellowship while reading for an MFA at the University of Cape Town. I had the privilege of receiving support and mentorship from artists such as Stephen Shore, David Goldblatt and Roger Ballen, which was a tremendous period of growth for me as an artist. The resulting body of photographs entitled "Separate Amenities" (2010-2012) deals with South Africa's segregated recreational spaces built during apartheid. In my research I dealt with both spatial and art historical notions of the landscape as a construct, but my concerns developed towards the intentions, both political and psychological, of those who built these spaces and how in turn the contemporary constructed landscape reflects the notions of those who had shaped it.

Wild Waters from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

While "Separate Amenities" was a starting point for expounding my political concerns regarding the nature of power through the investigation of history, I also became acutely aware of how censorship had shaped South African society. Similar to the social engineering resulting from the constructed segregated landscape of apartheid, control of information also meant psychological segregation, the mind construct of the "other." I examine censorship both historically and in regards to the current political climate in South Africa by using ideas of absence, omission and cover-ups to convey these ideas.

My practice has shifted towards a more conceptual framework of dealing with these issues in recent times. I am currently working with elements of photojournalism, image appropriation, landscape photography, video and intervention, but in a manner that reflects on the limitations of all these strategies in terms of their use in artistic practice.

I use strategies such as these in order to construct my own narrative that allows me to expand on and re-contextualize the various facts and theories surrounding history. The development from a formal enquiry through photography, into a more conceptual, multidisciplinary approach allows me to reflect on my own identity within the South African historiography.

Maiden's Cove from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

JO: What is your experience with other photographers and traditions from the (African) continent? How did you learn of them or their work?

VB: I was introduced to many photographers from South Africa through the Tierney Fellowship, but have also been able to meet other photographers from the continent through organizations and events such as the Bamako Biennial and on various artist residencies. African photographers are in a unique position today to create their own place within the medium and I strongly believe in photographers from the continent coming together to forge their own history instead of the more established international centers of photography doing it for us.

Oudekraal from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

JO: How do you feel your young approach speaks/rejects/debates or expands themes or works in South African photography of the previous generation?

VB: While South African photography is very much rooted in the documentary tradition I see more and more conceptual practices developing in South Africa. There is no question that the African diaspora and increased recognition of African artists abroad have greatly influenced the practices being implemented by emerging photographers. In my approach, greatly influenced by my background and the places I have lived in all over the world, I try to challenge traditional approaches in photography as I feel it is impossible not to consider the radical changes the medium has undergone in recent times.

Green Point Stadium from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

King's Beach from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout

JO: Are there themes or styles that your work shares with other African photographers?

VB: In terms of my early landscape work, it is impossible not to mention David Goldblatt who continues to be a great influence on all local photographers through his generosity and commitment to South African photography. Artists such as Monique Pelser and Chad Rossouw are challenging traditional concepts of photo-based art, which is an approach I am also following in my new work.

JO: Where do you see your work going otherwise, how is your practice evolving?

VB: As mentioned my practice is taking on an increasing conceptual, multidisciplinary approach that will continue into the future. I am very interested in shifting my work into a more public space where it can comment on universal concerns in a direct fashion. I want to continue to challenge traditional ideas about photography and consider the shifting role of the medium in contemporary art practices.

Buffelsbay from the series "Separate Amenities" © Vincent Bezuidenhout