Every two years, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson offers the prestigious HCB Award of €35,000 to a renowned photographer. Enrants must submit plans for an ambitious documentary project, supported by a specific institution, and should be able to demonstrate significant existing knowledge of the genre. The latest winner has just been announced: Guy Tillim (b. 1962).
Tillim’s successful proposal, Museum of the Revolution, centres on contemporary life in places that continue to process the conflicting narratives of their colonial and postcolonial past. It builds upon his existing work in Johannesburg (South Africa), Maputo (Mozambique), Luanda (Angola), Harare (Zimbabwe), Libreville (Gabon), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Nairobi (Kenya). In these cities, he records everyday experiences in the context of a built environment which provides continual references to previous regimes.
Power, space and structures are inextricably bound up with ordinary lives; this takes the form of conscious resistance at times but, more often, can be seen as insidious visual pervasiveness. The prize money will allow for the completion of the piece in Dakar (Senegal), Accra (Ghana), Kampala (Uganda) and Lagos (Nigeria). This comprehensive documentation of African cities will, in time, become a valuable historical resource — and for now, it provides critical insight into a range of areas where younger generations continue to confront the problems left behind throughout recent centuries.
In so doing, Tillim provides a visual counterpart to important theoretical writing on the urban articulation of authority and its legacies. His images, which often show people going about their daily commutes, are redolent of Henri Lefebvre’s insights on rhythm. Our routines are so ingrained, writing on “rhythmanalysis” argues, that they provide us with a central medium for understanding our surroundings. Should a disruption occur – anything unexpected – it can provide a powerful shift in perception.
In other words, until something shocking happens, we unconsciously absorb and rationalise the things we see each day. Here, photographs of characters’ normal routes through the city show them coming into contact with physical legacies of political administration: through buildings and statues, perhaps, but also more seemingly banal features such as street names. His documentary interrogation, then, gives deeper meaning to these encounters.
1. Guy Tillim, Avenue du Pr. L. Sedar Senghor, Dakar, Senegal, March 4, 2017. Courtesy of HCB.