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A Portrait Without Faces Can Tell Us So Much
Alice Zoo on 3 photographs in the Tender Photo Archive
Perhaps because of their contradiction, I often find myself drawn to photographs of movement: pictures that pull you into an ongoing action, whose dynamism proceeds easily past the split-second preserved in the frame. I can’t tell, on this basis, if such pictures seem to contain more time than ‘stiller’ ones or less, but they invite an active and energised kind of looking.
In these three photographs the subjects are not only in motion, but joyfully so. Schoolgirls rush around a chalk game drawn on the floor of a classroom, their gingham uniform blurred to pink against the powder blue wall behind them; two boys play together, one pulling the other through bands of light and shadow and into the water; three men are dancing or jumping — and how is it that we can tell that even these feet are joyful? Such is the potency of this photograph, that a portrait without faces can tell us so much.
There’s also a personal reason, I detect, behind my selection. This capturing of unbridled movement requires a kind of boldness I rarely allow myself in my own photographing, whose self-imposed demands of precision are such that my pictures at times seem characterised by a solemn stillness that I can’t often coax myself away from. In these three photographs, by contrast, I sense a bravery and abandon not only in the subjects, but in their photographers too. To me, these pictures speak of a willingness to enter the moment and trust it, to photograph in and with the flow and uncertainty of time in motion. I admire it deeply.
About Alice Zoo
Alice Zoo is a photographer and writer based in London. She is interested in the ways that people create meaning for themselves, often in the forms of ritual, celebration, and recounted memory. Her photographic work has been commissioned by publications including National Geographic, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, and has been exhibited internationally. She writes about photography for various arts publications and publishes a monthly newsletter called.
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This is the #5 edition of Correspondences, a pop-up series on Tender Photo, published every Saturday from March 4–May 20, 2023. I asked a few writers to find “correspondences” between 3 photographs from the archive, chosen without constraint on style or genre, and to write short commentaries on their choice. The goal is to open up Tender Photo’s editorial and curatorial process to an engaged group of readers, broadening the diversity of responses to the varied work featured so far.
Tender Photo is a bi-weekly newsletter on African photography, published Wednesdays and Saturdays. See the archive for more features on early to mid-career photographers. If this newsletter was shared with you, consider subscribing, or forward to a friend. Please whitelist the newsletter to ensure you never miss it.