City life around Africa through the lens

Friday January 10 2014

From Left: Abraham Oghobase's Jam, Calvin Dondo's New German Families, and Michael Tsegaye's Future Memories. Photos/Morgan Mbabazi

Six African photographers recently held an exhibition in Uganda on images dealing with social issues.

The exhibition, titled Witness/Témoin, was by Sammy Baloji (DR Congo), Calvin Dondo (Zimbabwe), Sabelo Mlangeni (South Africa), Abraham Onoriode Oghobase (Nigeria), Monique Pelser (South Africa) and Michael Tsegaye (Ethiopia).

It was a collaboration between the Ugandan German Cultural Society and Makerere Art Gallery/Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration.



Oghobase’s topic and inspiration was Lagos, a densely populated and dynamic city.


He explores the way people live in the overpopulated and expensive city.

“The social, political and economic situation of society plays a pivotal role in my work. I am interested in using photography to explore the way people live and how they are affected by the different systems that exist, and how conditions evolve to meet or take advantage of certain needs. For example, in the series Jam I explore how rural-urban drift, among other things, has led to inflated rents in Lagos and congested living spaces,” said Oghobase said.

“My exploration of identity through self-portraiture in Nigeria and abroad, is often a reflection of how I am perceived as a photographer, an artist, a black male, a Nigerian, which in turn is based on social and cultural points of view that have their roots in history,” he said.

Oghobase, who was born in 1979 in Lagos, lives and works in Nigeria’s commercial capital. His photography has been exhibited in Nigeria and across Africa and Europe.


The series Country Girls 2003-2009, is an intimate portrait of gay life in the countryside of South Africa.

Mlangeni took the photographs in small towns and rural areas in the Mpumalanga province, a region where the main economic activities are mining, agriculture and forestry.
Mlangeni grew up in the area and is familiar with the local communities.

His black and white portraits show scenes of fashion and glamour as well as everyday life. The photographs reflect a trusting relationship between the photographer and the subjects.

“My work challenges a viewer, like in this body of work Country Girls. In our society, we are taught that a man should present himself in a certain way, seeing a man in a dress shifts the way we think and are taught to think. It is political and confronts issues of homophobia,” said Mlangeni.

He was born in 1980 in Driefontein near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga. In 2001, he moved to Johannesburg where he joined the Market Photo Workshop, graduating in 2004. He has exhibited in South Africa, other African countries and Europe.


Dondo exhibited New German Families, a project on German families who have adopted African children. He spent time with the families and photographed them over many years.

In the image below, he captured two children wearing traditional German attire.

“I believe our work as artists, is to open doors, shed light and give new possibilities to, first, our immediate environment and then the world at large. Our visual statements provoke and shift society’s understanding of the world. Whatever work I do, I feel I am responsible to everyone around me,” said Dondo.

Dondo uses digital image processing to fuse together two composite visuals to create a single final image.

Born in 1963 in Harare, Dondo lives and works in the Zimbabwean capital.

He is the founder and curator of Gwanza: A month of Photography in Zimbabwe — one of the country’s biggest photography shows. Gwanza is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the development and promotion of photography and the interaction of local and international photographers.

He has exhibited in Africa, Europe and US. He won the overall Bamako Photographic Encounter Award in 2007 in Mali.


Tsegaye’s photo of a skyscraper under construction in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, represents the increasingly shifting cityscape of the capital.

Currently, China is investing massively in the development of infrastructure in Ethiopia. The old city is being replaced by new buildings, roads and bridges.

Since early 2000, Tsegaye has been documenting the changing city.

“In the past 10 years, the city in which I live, and the rest of Ethiopia in general, has gone through tremendous changes — both demographically as well as physically — with the construction of new buildings and the demolition of old ones. The changes that modernity has brought about in the rural areas are also significant as old cultural practices adopt certain aspects of new ones,” said Tsegaye.

Born in 1975 in Addis Ababa, Tsegaye lives and works in the Ethiopian capital. He received a diploma in painting from the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Arts and Design in 2002, but soon gave up painting after he developed an allergy to oil paint.

He subsequently found his real passion in photography. He has exhibited in various galleries in the US, Europe, Africa and Brazil.


The Un-named Bystanders series is a phone-camera pictures of newspaper archives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The images Pelser selected were front page photos taken at important events in South Africa. She looked out for anonymous and incidental characters in the background of historic scenes and took closeup portraits of them.

The image files are very small and extremely pixilated, thus capture the quality of the newspaper.

It was her intention to push the work towards a painterly quality while retaining its photographic origin.

“South Africa’s history influences my way of taking photographs. I try to use the camera to re-look at the country, the land, people and the objects or traces which were left behind and have become a historical burden,” said Pelser.

Born in 1976 in Johannesburg, Pelser, a visual artist, lives and works in Cape Town. A Tierney Fellowship recipient for 2010 and voted by Art South Africa as a bright young artist for 2007, Pelser is well known for her role in reversal portraits.

“This exhibition is a great opportunity for artists. It portrays the different historic, social and urban realities these young photographers live in,” said Katrin Peters-Klaphake the curator at the Makerere Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration.