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Friday, 19 February 2021

Candice Jansen and the futures of black archives

    Photo copyright Nelise Nkosi

(Candice Jansen was originally scheduled to speak at the RPS but unfortunately cannot now attend. Instead Laura El Tantawy will talk on  The personal, the historical, the political: Dissecting In the Shadow of the Pyramids  Laura El Tantawy - Go here for more details

I was  blown away by talking to Candice a few weeks back, and hearing on how the archive, learning, and curriculum development can work together. As I understand it (and this is very much in my words), in her role she is working with archives, but also working with learning, and understanding how that learning plays out both with the visual history of the Workshop (and South Africa by extension), and with the histories of learning and what we give value to.

That becomes a question of what we give value to? How and why do we value written histories against oral histories, how do we understand things locally and globally, why do some ways of thinking, being, and speaking dominate over others, and how can image making become part of a community rather than about a community - which then means it's not about that community at all.

Tied into this is the question of how can we build a curriculum that is centred around these ideas, that looks at the archive to see how images have been used in the past, but also reconfigures how they can be used in the present. 

Some of those issues remind me of a talk that Dr Robbie Shilliam gave on  The British Academy and the British Empire: Blackness as a problem at home and abroad’ back in June last year.

Again, very much in my words, from a flawed and limited knowledge of anthropology this talk fed into how the black presence in academia came to be associated with the degeneration of the academy?

It looked at the changing motives of anthropology from Malinowski to Seligman to Banton, the ways in which ideas of  'cognitive incompotence' led to 'cultural incompetence' and then 'psychological incompetence'.

This fed into early ideas of British race relations where you got ideas of an 'urban incompetence' that tied to the establishment of the idea of  the inabilities of black people to adapt to particular situations, which ties to a 'political incompetence' where blacks and Commonwealth peoples are more susceptible to communist propaganda. 

So you have anthropology feeding into and creating ideas of  genetic, cognitive, cultural, psychological,  behavioural, work-ethic, aesthetic, and many more incompetences. And tied right in there (though the lecture didn't touch on this much) is photography. People, myself include, always ask how photography can effect change. Well, it already has, albeit as a gaslighting tool of oppression and difference. 

The talk was about how racism, prejudice, and rationalisation is embedded in society, in academia, in belief systems, how particular intelligences and means of expression (so the written as opposed to oral histories for example, the expository as opposed to the poetic) are valued above others and how this valuing is reinforced at every level.

If you want to know more, you'll have to go to the source, because I'm at the edge of my knowledge here, but I can't wait to get Candice's perspective on this from a very different angle.

1.Wednesday 3rd March – Exhibiting Photography – Hannah Watson
2. Wednesday 10th March – Curating Photography - Susan Bright
3. Wednesday 17th March – Cultural, political and personal identity in Mexican and Latin American photography - Ana Casas Broda
4. Wednesday 24th March – Flora, Photography, Illustration - Gem Toes Crichton
5. Wednesday 31st March – Collaboration and Queerness - Anthony Luvera
6. Wednesday 7th April –  The personal, the historical, the political: Disecting In the Shadow of the Pyramids  Laura El Tantawy
7. Wednesday 14th April – Africa in the Photobook - Ben Krewinkel
8. Wednesday 21st April – Establishing a Photo Festival - Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati

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