By Peter Njuguna
Published June 5, 2013
Over the years photography has acted as a way of preservation of memory in Kenya. Pictures of weddings featuring women in white wedding dresses and men and women in graduation caps and gowns hang on the walls of many homes in the country. Till now, it has been rare to find exhibitions of photographs in a country that usually displays paintings and sculptures and photography has been oriented mainly towards photojournalism, fashion and advertising. This kind of culture is slowly changing to where some artists are positioning themselves against the established visual discourses of the messages driven by confronting issues of Kenyan society.
This kind of culture has been adopted by Goethe-Institut who curated an exhibition of photographs held at the Nairobi Gallery of the National Museums of Kenya in 2010. The result is Mwangalio Tofauti (different perspectives), a book displaying the works of nine photographers–Jacob Barua, Jim Chuchu, Sam Hopkins, Antony Kaminju, Miriam Syowia Kyambi, Barbara Minishi, James Muriuki, Boniface Mwangi and Wambui Mwangi–who participated in the exhibition. Their works are arranged according to themes such as Light and Form, Dead Insects in a Swimming Pool, Black Diamonds of Soweto, Eyerus, Nairobi Nightlife, and Colors and Curves. Perhaps it is from this diverse range of subjects tackled by the photographers that gives the book the title Different Perspectives.
Light and Form consists of graphical photographs taken by Jacob Barua, a film director. His work seems to be more obsessed with buildings unlike Antony Kaminju, an instructor in photography, whose photos focuses on young people having fun in various entertainment places.
Eyerus, done by Barbara Minishi, an art director, contains black and white images of faces of people wearing different types of shades. Her work differs a lot from Untitled by James Muriuki, an art curator; maybe it is because of their gender differences. Whereas Muriuki’s work shows images of structures, Minishi’s appears to be focused on beauty, a trait that has always been associated with women.
Students of photography and lovers of art may find the book quite useful as it illustrates, discusses, and shows how photography is done in details.
Although some of the photographers featured in the book have worked with photography for years, some of their work may not live up to the expectations of many readers; for example, Miriam Syowia Kyambi’s work on ‘What cultural fabric?’ overwhelms the eye as they are magnified and set on double spreads. Other images, like in Eyerus, are in black and white. This makes the book look old fashioned since many people are used to full coloured images.
Despite the unsatisfactory quality of images, the book has also used complicated language, especially in its essay where some words like ‘primordial’ and ‘idiosyncratic’ are used making it a bit complicated for the average reader to understand what is being said.
The 260-page Mwangalio Tofauti, published in 2012, is the fifth volume by Goethe Institut. It is edited by Johannes Hossfeld, the director of the Institute.
Peter Gakaria Njuguna, from the Kenya Private Sector Alliance’s Youth Empowerment Project, is an intern in Journalism and Public Relations at ArtMatters.Info.