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Private Black Lives
A Photograph by Kwena Chokoe
A haunting simplicity: an arm as if distended, a table as if visited by a stranger. The mood is subdued, the room low-lit and subterranean. A place where we might return to the original sense in which the word apocalypse was used: a revelation. What is this place, this evocation? Here's what it can mean to say a photograph is silent.
Kwena Chokoe: “My camera was nearby, I took my chance.”
This photograph was taken in Hammanskraal, in the North West of South Africa, at my grandfather's house.
In an instant, the velvety chair back, the reflecting, embossed tablecloth, the waxy skin of the lone plum, and the murkiness of the artificial gingerbeer in the clutches of a hurrying hand, coordinated in colour and composition, without my interference. My camera was nearby, I took my chance.
I love to take photos that feature a human presence, without the human body itself. In this case, a limb animated the scene; to whom it belongs matters little. I love the composition and the content of the photograph. I was visiting my now-101 year old grandfather, which I only get to do once a year when I come home, and I love how consistent and predictable and familiar his home is. And yet I always find something beautiful and new that captures my attention. Our homes don't look like the way his does anymore. We are urbanised, evermore westernised, and globalised too. Our homes look like those of Americans in taste.
I shoot what I like. Over time this has developed into my style. My own understanding of beauty is enough. The intention when I take pictures is to make an artistic expression.
Photographs capture moments in time, that's photography's impact. It's a record of history.
When it straddles art and real life, photography as a discipline presents an array of gazes, ways of seeing, ways of being seen. It's visual literature when done right. It's sublime.
Two more photographs by Kwena Chokoe
For each week’s feature, I send 3 photographs to the photographer, and ask them to respond to one. Here are the 2 other photographs I selected from Kwena’s portfolio. What do you think about any of them? You can respond as a comment below.
Last Week — Ngadi Smart
“Photography can inspire change, it can change people's perceptions of others and bring light to issues which would otherwise remain in the dark. For example, think of the haunting image of David Kirby's death, taken by journalism student Therese Frare in 1990, which became an iconic image of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
My approach to photography is very organic. It's about meeting people, making a connection, and trying to represent them in the best and most truthful way you can.”
Read “C'est Pas Fini.”
Thank you for reading and sharing this feature on Kwena Chokoe. You can see more of her work on her website.
Every week I feature one photograph and the photographer who took it. Below the photo, you’ll read a short caption from me, and a statement from the photographer. My goal is to set up conversations with the work of early to mid-career African photographers. You can support the newsletter by asking anyone—or 10 people!—interested in the impact and meanings of photography to subscribe.