African portraiture is about using technology to change perceptions. Photography and sharing platforms like Tumblr and Instagram are becoming increasingly accessed by young African’s. These tools are being used to celebrate the beauty of African people and their culture. We are accustomed to being looking down upon as a continent so technology and creative individuals are allowing people to see an alternative.
Considering the lack of black representation in media this alternative is much needed. Type in “Hollywood actress” for example and see what comes up. Frustrating, considering how many talented black actresses there are in Hollywood. This isn’t the only key words that one would search and not find a fair representation of African people. In magazines within the SA market you won’t see fair representation either.
Photographers are paying much needed respect to African’s. Regardless of whether they inhabit suburbs or townships they are showing them in a beautiful and celebrative light.
We have a growing number of self-confident and proud South African’s that instead of shedding who they are, they are embracing their skin, hair, where they are from and creating real beauty out of it. What has fuelled this creativity is the unity between black people, the rise of black consciousness and the sharing of information on connected platforms.
Even in the poorest of townships – people there have style and make use of their resources well. In the words of Omar Victor Diop the Senegalese photographer “they (Senegalese women) are on a low-budget but they still look like queens”. In some ways having less can be seen as a blessing because it forces people to be creative. That said no wander there is a growing number of African portraits that paint a feeling of admiration, hope and optimism. It’s less about the economic situation or geographical location but the beauty and hope your feel when you see a story in an optimistic photograph. People don’t just have to look at us as Africans and say ‘shame’ but now they can look and say ‘wow’.
The self-portraits of Tony Gum recreating Twiggy is more inspiring to those who follow her than the images of Twiggy herself. A picture of a young, confident black woman means more than a British model to this African generation. The African generation not just being those who live within Africa but those who live in the borders of other continents that have Africa in their hearts.
African people are inventing and creating their own styles that like Tony they are sharing through technology. Whether they are as well-acclaimed as Tony’s self-portraits they still exist and are there for brands and people across the world to understand who they are better and as a result communicate with them better.
African portraiture is a tool for shaping what it means to be black and for expressing new possibilities. Consumers feel like celebrating being “African” should not be confined to a month. May all brands operating in our market recognize this and go forth with sharing in positive story-telling through portraiture that makes as big an impact as what is already seen on social media. The people and the technology have come together in ways like never before so open your eyes and see just how beautiful African’s are.