Accepted Paper:

We Have Never Been Urban: Oumar Ka's "Rural" Portraits (1958-69)  

Author:

Giulia Paoletti (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the early career of the Senegalese photography Oumar Ka (b. 1930). In considering his itinerant practice between 1959 and 1968, I will study his portraits of individuals and groups taken in open landscapes and small villages across the Baol region, 200 kilometers from Dakar.

Paper long abstract:

Until now, the experience of photography in Africa is one that has been largely read against the backdrop of urban living. Since the 1990s, scholars and curators alike have often foregrounded the aesthetics that emerged from the collaboration between photographers and their patrons living in capital cities. In an effort to expand our understanding of this medium, this paper will focus on the early career of the Senegalese Oumar Ka (b. 1930). In considering his itinerant practice between 1959 and 1968, I will study his portraits of individuals and groups taken in open landscapes and small villages across the Baol region, 200 kilometers from Dakar. Differently from his colleagues working in Dakar like the famous Mama Casset (1908-92), Ka privileged long shots where his sitters are at the distance allowing us to see local architecture and natural surroundings. Unlike standardized ready-made backdrops, these accidental backgrounds become active elements with whom the sitter intimately interacts. The radically different compositions and overall aesthetic encourage us to revisit the conflation of photography's modernity with urban living to consider the possibility of other "rural" tastes and styles.

Panel P162
Photographs and Photographers in Africa Visual Entanglements of the Urban and the Rural