the power of African statues

THE POWER OF AFRICAN STATUES                                   in 12 pictures   (nov 2016)

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mask. d’mba

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African statues were a deep inspiration for modern artists like Picasso, further paving the way to styles like kubism and constructivism. When you have not seen old African work, you fail to see the connection with later complete abstract art by Mondriaan and recent work by Newman and Rothko. The power of African influence may nowadays be hidden, but is still there.

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Traditional African work was never meant as art. Just like Medieval (800-1200) fresco’s, statues and crucifixes, their functions were ancesterial, spiritual or religious.

Like African tradition, Medieval work is called “primitive art”. Primitive? The bodyshapes of the later Baroque (1600-1800) statues and paintings certainly have more realistic human proportions. But Baroque is equally known for its sugar-sweet unrealistic expression: St. Sebastian’s body full with arrows, posing as an attractive pin-up model; tortured and crucified Jesus, not showing any suffering and pain. tearjerking figures in oversentimental bodypositions. Progression in form, but degradation in expression. What Medieval and African work share is powerfull honest emotion.

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dance staff

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“Form should follow content”. But in many museums content seems to be an oversight. Old African statues are exposed in glass vitrines, against flat monochrome walls, even and brightly lit. The same is done in catalogue photography. All done to help us see every detail. But with this method removing the original context, thereby destroying their magic and emotional power. To be fair, I know some museums succeeding in creating respectful contextual settings.

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ancesterial figures

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Instead of straight aways photography of African objects, I would like to pay tribute by removing the clean museum atmosphere. Caring not for the outside details, but uncovering the spiritual content, trying to do more justice to their original meaning. And thereby an exercise in training my way of photographical obervation. Focus on meaning and emotion instead of pure form alone.

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I used the Fuji XE2 body with 35/1.4, 60/2.4 and 18-55/2.8-4.0 lenses. No filters and tripod (no flash of course). Some technical aspects: ISO 3200-6400 in RAW and JPG; deliberately choosing focus-unsharpness or camera-motionblurr; cropping parts of he objects. And lots of post-processing in Lightroom: like darkening; adding contrast and grain; no noisereduction; lowering color and saturation; splittoning, vignetting, in fact allowing every possible adjustment. I completely removed the original museum setting, and am satisfied with the result.

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kanaga. dogon

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for portfolio and more press   HOMEPAGE

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