Kerry Stuart Coppin
Interpretive Photography: Urban Africa and the Diaspora
Interpretive Photography: Urban Africa and the Diaspora
“The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny, and it is useless for the innocent to try by reasoning to get justice . . .”- Aesop: The Wolf and the Lamb, 1479
It is my ambition to produce provocative photographic interpretations that elaborate and celebrate positive aspects of the Black community experience. I am particularly interested to pursue visual examination of the Black urban African experience. I am convinced (in the words of bell hooks) that “the lives of black people are complex, and are therefore worthy of sophisticated critical analysis and reflection . . .” I am trying to use photography as a tool, an instrument, to “change the way we as Black people look at ourselves and the world . . .” I hope through my work to contribute to our sense of world community; to help “create a world where Blackness, and Black people, can be looked upon with open eyes . . .” I recognize that “there is no naked, honest, simple way for it to be done (for a white man to look at a Black man),” but perhaps, as Black people, we can look at each other.
My photographs are often misinterpreted as documentary photography. They are not documentary photography. My photographs are interpretations, testaments, and poems. They are indictments! Not the first, nor the last, in an ongoing debate – the means by which people of African descent will restore our histories and cultures to their rightful place in the world community. They are bricks in a wall of cultural resistance. They are Percussion: “the striking together of two bodies, especially when noise is produced / the sound, vibration, or shock caused by the striking together of two bodies . . .” I am percussionist. My photographs function as percussion, in an attempt to contribute to an ongoing dialogue, which has the potential to heal and reconstruct – to produce a tangible social and economic effect on the lives of people and community.
“By way of selective representation, deplorable images are often telecast in the western [media] to depict African predicament and the urgency for western style agency. Many representations of Africa lack a comprehensive discussion about Africa’s economy, history, culture, and more especially, urban life. The total neglect of Africa’s rich culture, urban life, social changes, extended family support systems, women’s economic organizations and involvement in supporting families often result in a truncated picture of the continent . . .”
I pursue visual interpretation of the Black urban experience in Africa, and the Diaspora, as it may be used to shape a reinterpretation of our understanding of the African continent and its rich human potential. We may choose to allow language or allow culture, national borders, and economic and political systems of government, to separate and alienate us. Or, we can choose to use all the systems of contemporary society / post-modern world, including systems of art, as tools to forge unions between the many diverse and disparate communities of African descent in the New World, and around the globe. We may choose to use the systems, of art and culture, to cultivate, annotate, and to perpetuate, the experience and expression of our communities. We may choose to use art as a catalyst for social, cultural, and economic change: for the ultimate reconstruction of the nations of Africa and her communities and countries in the New World. My visual research – humanistic photography – is an attempt to use artistic discipline to provoke and inspire meaningful dialogue aimed at change: to change the perception of Africa, her people, countries, and communities, around the globe, as a means to creating physical, spiritual, social, political and economic progress.
In the afterword to Untitled, Diane Arbus’s 1995 Aperture monograph, Doon Arbus (her daughter) provides an interpretation of her mothers photographs that is provocative and representative of our most ambitious photographic enterprise when she writes: “Created out of the courage to see things as they are, the grace to permit them to simply be, and a deceptive simplicity that permits itself neither fancy nor artifice – shows us metaphors embodied in the facts, riddles without words or answers, fragments of an unwritten fairy tale. They are revelatory rather than didactic, . . . their very existence . . . proof that nothing conjured by the imagination could be as awesome or exhilarating or magical or baffling as an encounter with reality . . .”
The interface of this “encounter with reality” – my encounter with reality – is the camera and lens . . . But what if the reality which we are encountering is the reality of African contribution to world thought, world culture, and world spiritual enterprise?
My visual research projects result in individual portfolios, and contribute to the creation of ongoing bodies of photographic work, for exhibition and publication, which deconstruct negative representations of Africa. It is percussion . . . A means to examine, interpret, and document: “to demonstrate that the camera, in concert with the written word, has the power to make judgments, give meaning, speak for the powerless and create reality. This constructed reality ultimately can shape the form and content of our knowledge of Africa . . .”
My photographs are an act of rebellion; an assault on the tyranny of an unjust world . . . Through photography I attempt “to try by reasoning to get justice . . .”
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion . . .”
- Albert Camus, 1957