Author(s): Tamar Garb
Distance and Desire accompanying the same-titled exhibition in Neu-Ulm is the first major publication to stage a dialogue between the ethnographic visions of late nineteenth and early-twentieth century African photography and engagements with this imagery by contemporary artists. Presenting an extraordinary range of portraits, albums, postcards, cartes de visite, and books from Southern Africa, as well as recent photography and video art from The Walther Collection, the catalogue includes original thematic essays by leading art historians, anthropologists, and cultural critics. Distance and Desire offers new perspectives on the African archive, reimagining its diverse histories and changing meanings. Distance and Desire investigates typical representations of African subjects, from scenes in nature and romanticized images of semi-nude models, to modern sitters posing in stylized studios, critically addressing the politics of colonialism and the complex issues of gender and identity. Among many diverse topics, the catalogue examines in-depth a series of cartes de visite from the Diamond Fields in Kimberley, the figure of the Zulu, the history of South Africas prominent studio photographers, A.M. Duggan-Cronins extensive ethnographic study The Bantu Tribes of South Africa, and the archive of elegant family portraits reproduced by the contemporary artist Santu Mofokeng in The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890-1950. The catalogue also reveals how the heritage of African imagery figures in the practices of contemporary African and African American artists, whose compelling photography and video art reworks the archive through satire or appropriation.