Zaneli Muholi and Zineb Sedira

How does having a relationship with that which is or those who are photographed, alter the perspective of viewer. All elements within an image affect interpretation: angle, facial expression, body position, distance, action. The photographer can patronize, embrace, deceive, simply capture, demean or detach. The perceptions of photographer and photographed can also meld up to a meeting point. When interaction happens and a convergence between subject and photographer is allowed, I believe, an increasingly honest image can emerge.

Getting to ‘know’ ones subject does not denounce objectivity entirely. Getting to ‘know’ ones subject does not mean falling in love and dismissing any form of critical analysis via documentation. It is within anyone’s ability to ‘keep in check’ and be aware of ones own personal attachments without dismissing them entirely. When this is achievable incredibly powerful images emerge; images heavy with complex and nuanced story; images honest and free from pretence.

The following two photographers both know their subjects and subject matter. Intimate portrayals are captured and both photographers complicate what is so often simplified in day-to-day media documentation.


In Faces and PhasesZaneli Muholi uses the portraiture format, traditionally used to capture loved ones. Although hardship may be present in lives she captures she does not victimize. To simply victimize, I believe, would be to de-humanize. An excerpt of her artist statement says:

“From an insider’s perspective, this project is meant as a commemoration and a celebration of the lives of black lesbians that I met in my journeys through the townships. Lives and narratives are told with both pain and joy, as some of these women were going through hardships in their lives. Their stories caused me sleepless nights as I did not know how to deal with the urgent needs I was told about. Many of them had been violated; I did not want the camera to be a further violation; rather, I wanted to establish relationships with them based on our mutual understanding of what it means to be female, lesbian and black in South Africa today.”

Nomonde Mbusi, Berea, Johannesburg, 2007

Refilwe Mahlaba, Thokoza, Johannesburg, 2010

Tumi Mokgosi, 2009


As someone who is Algerian, French and British Zineb Sedira, deals with the subject matter of identity a lot. She takes personal portraits and portraits of landscape (many of them in Algeria). For myself, the titles for her images really captured my attention and caused me to inspect each image for moments longer.

The Lovers, 2008

Reusable Space, 2008

Another Sight, 2008

Mother, Daughter and I, 2003


About erin bosenberg
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