"I am an open shutter camera.... One day all this will have to be developed, carefully printed and fixed." Christopher Isherwood, "Goodbye to Berlin.
This same conscious gaze and attentive perception is the theme of a new collaborative exhibition entitled "See ME", initiated by the German Ambassador to Namibia, Herbert Beck, and featuring Namibian youth from Katutura. The work of talented artists included in this exhibition are Tireemukuru Toromba, Elmau Boois and Malakia Matias.
A series of portraits explores our selfie-obsessed photography and the need to be liked and validated for an image that is mainly displayed on social media. This group of passionate photographers draws attention to another word: recognition. However superficial and ephemeral we may be, we gain legitimacy and are finally considered "real" when our image is seen and given the coveted "thumbs up". In the exhibition, the young people are both subjects and participants in their own narratives. The portraits are part social commentary, part imaginative play - most of the photos were taken by young people still honing their skills as aspiring artists.
During his tenure as ambassador to Namibia, Beck has been actively involved with the Basketball Artist School in Katutura, a flagship project in both sporting and social terms. The photographers and models featured in this exhibition all live in the Katutura community. This joint project has given them the opportunity to develop practical skills and self-expression. "The project has been a continuous and mutual learning process. It is encouraging to see how these young people follow their own passions and ambitions and find ways to describe and share their present reality with others." A high percentage of young people in Namibia are unemployed. Beck hopes that by creating alternative artistic opportunities, this problem can be at least partially addressed in the coming years.
Before being posted to Namibia at the end of 2019, Beck worked in South Africa and Iceland. The lens of his "Made in Germany" Leica camera, focused on urban landscapes and captured the movement of changing weather elements over a fjord from his stay in Iceland. "But my real fascination - like that of our photography collective - has always been with people," Beck confesses. Photography requires an "interested eye" and an invitation to perceive. "It should be more than just a fleeting flare of interest. I want to stand still long enough to capture something deeper."
Like a landscape that is constantly changing and revealing itself to the attentive observer, portrait photography requires a similar sense of wonder and even greater daring.
As an afterthought, Beck mentions the work of prolific contemporary German painter Gerhard Richter, known for his photorealistic masterpieces. In one of his well-known works, "Betty" (based on a photograph of Richter's daughter), the subject sits facing away from the viewer. "This provokes certain questions in us. What is she thinking? When does she turn her attention to the viewer ? Like the portraits of the teenagers, it also alludes to a more classical style; some of the photos shown suggest Vermeer-like lighting and quiet contemplation."
"The greatest joy of this project was watching the young people become aware of their worth as personalities and as promising artists. I believe that everyone deserves opportunities to live a decent, fulfilling life and to be seen for who they really are."
Beck concludes with an invitation to travellers visiting Namibia for the first time: Stop, take note of the artistically talented people in this country and don't be afraid to invest in locally produced art. "As a memento of current Namibia, why not pick up or bring back a small painting or photograph instead of the usual souvenir. Art is really affordable!"
“See ME” is on view at The Project Room from 2nd to 21st of June 2023.
View the Catalogue here.