“He recalls developing his negatives by moonlight, having to make his way to the ferry on a road thick with often-time un-negotiable elephant herds”.
What Strikes me first about Elly Rwakoma’s “All The Tricks” is the text. I hesitated a little bit reading the first pages as Ell is photographed comfortably at his home, which was in the progress of being built during the making of this book. The text reads as if it were playing the hits of his life first, covering a Newsweek blunder and speaking about his most famous subject Idi Amin Sinking or swimming (depending on the caption) in the pool.
I don’t profess a large interest in photojournalism. I distrust photography as a system, which is allegedly relative. When reading the background of images, I often feel that the solipsism involved is fine for the person making the image, but I don’t feel I can relate. I also shudder at the idea that photography is the best tool for describing political situations, documents of lives or other tenuous relationships between perception and image. What “All The Tricks” does, while reading through the text is to remind me of the practice of photography and how easy it is coming from a western country to make and consume images. Rwakoma relates the story of his beginnings as a photographer by recounting the days spent going to school after his brother had sold his bull affording the young photographer the opportunity to do so. He recalls developing his negatives by moonlight, having to make his way to the ferry on a road thick with often-time un-negotiable elephant herds. He tells of carrying his chemicals with him and cutting down his negatives to get a surplus of possibilities. I never had this. I was spoiled. He had 12 exposures to work with, I had 36 and I realize in reading this that I was spoiled.
“Sending white people in to re-colonize Africa through appropriating an African image in fashion, photography and design is salacious. I am skeptical that we are not doing a further disservice when trying to “open Africa up” by process of image slavery”
Most of this book is dedicated to the archival. It is a way in which the publisher HIPUganda and YdocPublishing is taking a direct, possibly activist role in saving these small stories from Uganda. Speaking with Andres Stultiens on and off during the course of the review for this book, it reminded me that there are concerns for projects like this which, make the traversal from archival tendencies to a re-imagined and somehow conceptual book about one person’s story, no matter how much I disavow relative meaning. It stresses past and towards the obvious at the same time. Here is this story from a place you’ve probably never been to and from a cultural you are no doubt oblivious to and yet, the effort has been taken to transplant something overlooked into the western photobook hegemony. Though I may be skeptical of what the audience for a book like this should be, and again, I am not the best person to champion documentary tendencies-I find the result somehow necessary and oddly kind.
If I were to be critical, I find the book somewhat overdesigned for its genesis. That is emphatically not to say it isn’t good design. The opposite, it is great. The images are interesting in so much as they “record” a period of time and place of which I am unfamiliar. I am trying to beat down the impulse to be affected by the exotic within, but find myself being pulled towards stories of elephants and the like for that very reason, but this is my problem as a privileged reader. I am happy this book exists even if it is not for me. I am happy to see the author inside the book, his images and also his story told by his own mouth. It largely separates a book like this from the flotsam and jetsam of “voyeuristic Africa” which seems to be all the rage these days. Sending white people in to re-colonize Africa through appropriating an African image in fashion, photography and design is salacious. I am skeptical that we are not doing a further disservice when trying to “open Africa up” by process of image slavery. This book avoids that issue fully and for that it has my endorsement. Finally an Africa related photobook that I do not think is taking the piss. Recommended.
(All rights reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Elly Rwakoma/Andrea Stultiens.)