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Guy Tillim/Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

‘Guy Tillim: Museum of the Revolution’

“Guy Tillim is a white South African born in 1962 who has devoted his career to documenting Sub-Saharan Africa,” writes Carole Naggar. “While nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century South African photographers were confined to the studio under colonial rule, the next generation—inspired by Drum magazine’s pioneering work in the 1950s—took up concerned photography and fought against Apartheid. Tillim is part of a third generation that pushes the boundaries of documentary photography and uses a range of media from photography to assemblage, installations, and video, all of which were recently featured in a large group show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, “Africa Remix.”

“Now exhibited in “Museum of the Revolution,” at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tillim’s work documents various African capitals where the signs of two revolutions can be seen in contemporary street life. In Durban, Maputo, Beira, Harare, Nairobi, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Luanda, Libreville, Accra, Abidjan, Dakar, and Dar es Salaam, the modernist buildings erected during the waves of independence in the 1960s sit alongside the elegant curves of colonial Art Deco structures built in the 1930s. In Johannesburg, the Brutalist architecture of a business center, initially conceived as a demonstration of white power but then abandoned in the early 1990s, stands in stark isolation. In several cities, streets and avenues named after Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese independence leader, remind passers-by of historical struggles for freedom. These sorts of scenes seem to create a theater set across which Tillim’s subjects move, like characters enacting a diurnal purpose.

Hawkers, street vendors, businessmen, housewives, shoppers, students—there is a sense of energy and a determination in the many bodies in motion. Some carry leather attaché-cases, others push a caddy or bear a heavy load, metal basins or plastic bowls balanced on their heads. Few pay any attention to the photographer or look at him directly. “The more visible you are to people in the streets, the more invisible, in a certain sense, you become,” Tillim told La Croix newspaper. “So standing in plain sight with my tripod-mounted camera, I became instantly seen, assimilated, and, ultimately, overlooked—which, as you know, is often a desirable state of being for a street photographer.” Something I noticed about these images was the absence of children, which is striking because they make up a large part of these cities’ populations. Perhaps in largely avoiding taking pictures of children, Tillim was reacting against the photojournalistic trope of the suffering African child.”

For more information, visit henricartierbresson.org.

Category: Exhibition
Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation
79 Rue des Archives,
Paris, France