Africana: portraits of the human spirit
Africana: portraits of the human spirit
Images and stories from East and Central Africa. Pre-order the book here
Images and stories from East and Central Africa. Pre-order the book here Read more
About this project
Africana frames its subjects with intimacy and directness. The images of the people in this book are a reflection of David's belief that every portrait is a collaboration between photographer and subject. From peasants to presidents, refugees to rebels, schoolteachers to street children, the book features more than 200 black & white and color photographs from Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Eritrea, Zaire, Tanzania and Chad. This is the culmination of eight years of passionate and compassionate documentation, and another several years of production.
It was a particularly tumultuous time in the region. The AIDS pandemic in Uganda, civil war and famine in South Sudan, the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia, the Rwandan Genocide and the multiparty democracy movement in Kenya all happened in that period, as did the release from prison of Nelson Mandela. All of these topics are in this book, but so is everyday life in the cities and rural areas where David lived and worked.
Read an interview and feature on David's approach to portraiture here on Vantage, the Pixel Magazine blog....
" . . . never take your position or status as a journalist or artist for granted. Not everyone is duly impressed with the badge of honor and sense of duty that gives one his or her sense of purpose."
"Hannah Wanjiru, whose portrait is on the cover of the book, was a dear friend... she once brought a small African tortoise to me in the handbag (chiondo) she carried everywhere. But the gift I still have and treasure is the small glassless family portrait she gave to me..."
David Blumenkrantz’s professional experience includes eight years of NGO, documentary and photojournalism work in East and Central Africa. From his home in Kenya, he traveled extensively and covered social, relief and development, and political issues. From 1992-1994, he was the Information Department Coordinator for the Undugu Society of Kenya, working on projects related to street children and urban poverty. He returns to Africa occasionally, most recently to Angola in 2010 for UNICEF & UNESCO. Images from this book have been exhibited at the French Cultural Centre, Nairobi, the All Africa Conference of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe, the Watts Towers Arts Center in Los Angeles, and the California African American Museum. Selections will be on display at the 1831 Gallery in Paris, beginning December 1st, and a book launch/exhibition is being planned for Los Angeles, sometime in spring 2016.
David has also freelanced for the Los Angeles Times and various other publications as a writer and photographer. A photography instructor and educator for 20 years, David has taught classes and workshops for, among others, Kodak East Africa, The All Africa Conference of Churches, the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi, the government of Eritrea, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh's Online Division, and the Watts Towers Art Center (for the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles). In 2004, after eight years teaching with the Los Angeles Unified School District, he joined the journalism department at California State University, Northridge, and is currently a tenured professor of documentary, photojournalism and visual communication. A digital archive of his African photography is in the permanent collection of the university's Tom and Ethel Bradley Center in the Oviatt Library.
David holds a BA in Journalism, an MA in Art Education, and an MFA in Visual Communication. His entire portfolio can be found on his personal website.
While searching for a publisher for what David considers his "life's work," it became clear that the most effective way to present this unique combination of environmental portraiture, street photography and advocacy documentary was to maintain total creative control by self-publishing. Magnum Printers in Hong Kong is now waiting for our order. We are turning to crowdfunding for the cost of the design, printing and distribution of this 11x11, 200-page hardcover book.
Your pledge will play a part in giving voice to the subjects and causes in this book, and in supporting the documentary tradition that places value on each individual life.
David documented the social, political and economic conditions that leave many people dependent on relief and development programs. The book includes coverage of the humanitarian work being done to this day by various African organizations including the Ugandan Womens Effort to Save the Orphans (UWESO), The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) in Uganda, and the Undugu Society of Kenya.
DESIGN & PRESENTATION
The book is divided into four main sections: Rural, Pastoral, Urban and Political
"The land was precious to the families that had endured colonial occupation or settled there in its wake. In the most profound and simple demonstration of how sacred the land is in traditional African society, the gravesites of loved ones who had passed on to join their ancestors were commonly found in the backs of family plots."
* Gichagi, the Kikuyu Country Life
The Rural Life section also takes the reader into remote areas rarely seen in traditional media coverage of Africa, with striking photographs and first-person accounts of tropical medicine in Zaire and the early years of the AIDS pandemic in Uganda.
" . . . Nanyonga’s pull among the common folk was phenomenal. Whatever the validity of her claims might have been, she had tapped a very sensitive nerve in the public's desperation for salvation, at a time when the Ugandan government was fighting an uphill battle in AIDS education and awareness. Counselor-trainee Lubuye Erasmus recalled how in 1983 he had taken his brother-in-law to a witchdoctor: 'I found myself taking him there! We were treating the disease, and it was not going. To be sure, if somebody said, 'I can treat that disease,' being a witchdoctor or not you would go there, if he is providing a remedy."
* Thirty Tons of Soil: Nanyonga's Divine Panacea
“'There are three types of people that go to Africa: missionaries, mercenaries and misfits.' Dr. Andreas Steiner seemed the classic example of a duality in human nature that renders such categorizations moot."
* Life and Death in Ankoro
The Pastoral Life section looks at the pastoral and semi-nomadic tribes of Marsabit District in northern Kenya, and the Karimojong of eastern Uganda. The portraits go beyond the traditional coffee table books' romanticized version of the "noble primitive" to show real people dealing with unique environmental, economic and political challenges such as drought, famine and political instability.
" . . . the Karimojong were still struggling with continuing political instability and the same security issues which had brought on the famine. The environment was just too hostile and unpredictable for most relief and development agencies to deal with, and the 30-odd agencies that had rolled in to fix life in Karamoja had been reduced to just two."
* Karamoja, Uganda
Urban Life combines street photography and portraiture to depict life in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Through friendships and connections made with residents David was able to create intimate portrayals...
"The evangelist is a diminutive, throaty Baluhya woman in a peasant’s headscarf, with high cheekbones and a penetrating gaze. Mary Akatsa operates in a large, fenced-off compound constructed of wooden poles, polythene roofing and mabati sidings, in the heart of the dusty and crowded Kawangware slums . . ."
* Faith, and Mary Akatsa
"Not 200 yards from the front gate of the mysterious and ornate State House, where security is prime and the president 'eats ugali' with dealmakers and sellouts, an undeveloped swath of land cuts a shallow valley between the apartments of State House Crescent and the pricey, private Moi Girl's School across the ridge. Deep among the arrowroots and sugar cane, a small band of squatters survive in their own miniature slum, unseen, unheard from . . ."
* Squatting Near the Statehouse
Urban Life includes a sub-section on David's most personal work, street children. From his arrival in East Africa, David began advocating on behalf of kids and families living in conditions of urban poverty in Nairobi and Kampala, regularly visiting the makeshift alleyway homes called "chuoms" where young children and teens created their own family structures.
"Njoroge, perhaps ten years old, was being interviewed by social workers. His only possession was an old burlap sack. When asked why he wouldn't put the sack down as they talked, the boy replied warily, "This is not a sack. It is my father and my mother, my house, my car, my farm and my daily bread. I can't steal without it."
* The Offspring of Urban Poverty
"It was far from a feelgood experience. Soon after my arrival in Nairobi, I cringed in shame listening through a closed door while police beat a group of boys who had broken into the trunk of my car to steal a laptop computer."
* Street Children, the Offspring of Urban Poverty
The Political Life section begins with a critique of the history of negative media stereotypes of Africa:
"Photographs have long been used to spread notions of sociocultural inferiority and to justify intervention and control by dominant cultures around the world. The history of colonialism in Africa made the continent a prime target for misinformation, abetted by not only by mass media but other participants including missionaries and anthropologists. In postcolonial Africa, a lucrative and entrenched relief and development industry has emerged that employs images of poverty, dispossession, lingering perceptions of primitiveness and the warm late-afternoon light as marketing tools."
* Don't Look Away
The section includes war-torn South Sudan and Uganda, the Rwandan Genocide, David's work with former freedom fighters in Eritrea and documentation of refugee life in a number of countries in the region. Intimate portraits of the innocents affected by these situations are given added context by his eyewitness accounts.
"Because of recent fighting, doctor Makuac explained, shipments of relief food and medicine had been lost or delayed, so the feeding program had come to a complete, temporary halt. When he spoke of the plight of his people, and the lack of medicines available to treat even the simplest of illnesses, he would fly into a rage, shaking with frustration. . ."
* Fear and Madness in South Sudan
"With much emphasis on school reconstruction, (First Lady) Janet Museveni laid a cornerstone for a proposed Children's Village. It was a festive atmosphere, yet the specter of conflict still hung in the air. As all of the musicians, traditional dancers and children’s choirs remained under the constant watch of dozens of armed soldiers, the contrast between the indomitable spirit that Ugandans demonstrated that day and the reality of a recent violent past was striking."
* Saving Uganda's Orphans
Encounters with presidents, political activists, and historical figures are also part of this section. The role of women in shaping Africa's policies and history is explored in excerpts from interviews with prominent figures such as Nobel Prize-winning environmental activist Wangari Maathai, and Hanna Simon, who fought in Eritrea's war of secession from Ethiopia and is today her country's ambassador to France.
“ . . . I think it is the temptation that is very common, in Africa anyway, that leaders tend to concentrate power around themselves. Whom can we say in Africa has not concentrated power for himself? And that temptation, I should also say, is enhanced by the people themselves, because people do not seem to be significantly appreciative of the need for freedom, the wonderful environment of being free and being able to do what you can do, what you want to, to say what you want to do."
* Wangari Maathai
Kenya's colonial past is revisited with the closing story and photo essay on the funeral of General China, one of the leaders and legends of the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule:
"As the casket was lowered into a grave carved out of the rich red soil, so Waruhiu Itote, Elder of the Burning Spear, at last became one with the land he had fought for. A visitor from outside, I felt a great sadness while watching the dirt being shoveled, the flowers laid. Not just sympathy for the grieving Wanjiru, nor wonder for the collection of aging generals. For whatever political reason, not a word of condolence was sent by a leading member of the government in power. I remembered the words of his young neighbor: 'He deserved a state burial.'"
* Nationalism in Kenya Lies Dormant....
Countless hours of production and research have brought us to this point. Everything was shot on film and ten years ago David began the tedious process of scanning and digitally restoring hundreds of negatives to create the archive from which the images in this book have been chosen.
Remember, your contribution will take this project through its final laps: design, printing and distribution. In doing so you will play a big part in giving voice to the subjects and causes in this book, and in supporting the documentary tradition that places value on each individual life. Please share this with family and friends, through social media, email and word of mouth. Thanks for your consideration!
REWARDSTo choose which of the signed prints you wish to receive from the selections below, please go to the gallery on my website.
Risks and challenges
Promoting documentary photographs as products is tricky because their original intent was to inform and educate, not to sell as art. I want only to share these images and the ideas they might inspire. The artist might not care if his work is understood, let alone liked. It's different when you want the subjects in the photographs to be taken seriously, not looked at as objects or even as art. It's a loaded proposition, no clear way to come out of it unscathed.
The biggest obstacle at this point is simply the expense of shipping books overseas. I anticipate a lot of interest in this book from African and even European audiences, but the cost of shipping books overseas means that those living on these continents will have to pay an extra shipping charge. For this reason the eText version will be available, and other rewards (signed prints, etc) are available as rewards. We will make sure the actual book is available for sale online, in anticipation of its potential popularity in East Africa and elsewhere. Otherwise, everything is in place to ensure that this book will be available to the public by the end of February 2016. The book will be printed by Magnum in Hong Kong, and we have secured the services of a customs agent to bring the books into the United States.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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