Before the dawn of the digital age, Kenyans embraced the colonial introduction of photography through the popularization of studio photography. A forerunner of the ubiquitous modern “selfie”, 180 of these portraits form the upcoming exhibit Pigapicha! at the Unviersity of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology.
[pullquote]Seeing a decline in popularity of studio photography in the last 15 years, attributed to the cameras found in the ever-present mobile phone, Pigapicha! not only provides a glimpse into the art-form, but in preserving it as well.[/pullquote]In its native Swahili, Pigapicha literally means “take my picture”, a popular everyday expression in Kenya, but while the digital selfie might capture an image in-the-moment, for Kenyans that same selfie takes on a whole different meaning.
“If you think about photography from a Western perspective it is dominated by the idea of images of reality,” explains Nuno Porto, Curatorial Liaison for the exhibit. “In the West we think about photographs in terms of being worth a thousand words, but in Nairobi it is not to capture reality, but to create ideal situations. With these studio portraits it is about the subjects creating ideal images of themselves”.
While the images, may be esoteric and amusing to the Western eye at times, they also provide a glimpse into life that we don’t typically associate with from that part of the world.
“The big picture comes from how our view into that part of the world is not always the most positive with things like war, famine and child abductions,” says Porto. “In the global village, Africans are our neighbours and one of the greatest contributions of this exhibit is to expose audiences to a modern Africa in a positive and uplifting sense.”
Curated by professional photographer Katharina Greven, formerly of the Goethe-Institut in Kenya, the images were collected from more than 30 photography studios in Nairobi and other sources. The images are a combination of the carefully staged and the spontaneous.
Seeing a decline in popularity of studio photography in the last 15 years, attributed to the cameras found in the ever-present mobile phone, Pigapicha! not only provides a glimpse into the art-form, but in preserving it as well.
“When the research group started this project it was on the eve of digital photograph,” explains Porto. “With this exhibit you have a series of different voices and aesthetics over the last 100 years.”
Pigapicha! will be on view at the Museum of Anthropology (6393 NW Marine Drive, UBC, Vancouver) until April 5. Visit http://moa.ubc.ca for more information.