Alice Mann is a young artist from South Africa that has used photography to study her own culture and the society where she has grown up in. Now based in London and with great expectations for the future she answered some questions for stitch about this interesting project called The Southern Suburbs, and how British audiences may interpret it in different way than South African audiences. The photographs in this series form part of a social documentary, showing the economic rift between the subjects she photographed, the inhabitants of the homes and those who work for them, making this series a mirror that reflects how the southern suburbs in Cape Town are.
Who are you?
I am a 23 year old fine arts graduate from Cape Town, South Africa. After Having graduated at the end of 2013 with a major in fine art photography, I moved to the UK in order to pursue an internship. I am currently working as a freelance photographer, and working on an ongoing personal project. I hope to pursue my studies by doing a masters, so the work I am doing at the moment will function as part of my portfolio.
What dragged you into photography?
It was quite organic I suppose. I didn’t always plan on working towards being a fine art photographer. But it was something that always fascinated me. I am intrigued by the way that people read into and interpret images, and the way my roll as a photographer functions within that. I think the way that an image can be manipulated is interesting, because people often take photographs to depict the truth.
How would you describe your work, your photography?
I am interested in social groups in society. The way that people are separated, or separate themselves according to what makes them different is something I try to investigate in my work. I aim to explore those differences, sometimes by highlighting them, and exaggerating them.
I can see in your website that a lot of your work is focused on South Africa’s society, what is it that makes you want to use that as the subject of most of your projects?
Growing up and learning about photography in the context of my country has definitely affected the way I perceive images. It has also made me consider certain things carefully when I am constructing my own. I am very interested in representation-whom has the right to represent whom, and why?
I have realised that there is a big difference between the way a South African audience, and a British audience might interpret an image. As a white female artist, I have come to realise that there are certain groups of people it is deemed appropriate for me to focus on in my images, and groups of people who it am not. This is something I want to continue to investigate.
What is the main idea/message behind “The Southern Suburbs”?
My focus in this series of images is a particular social group that belongs to what I would define as the “upper middle class” in Cape Town. It was in these suburbs – Constantia, Rondebosch, Bishopscourt and Upper Kenilworth – that my series was photographed. These suburbs are primarily residential and their inhabitants are predominantly white, affluent and, in essence, members of South Africa’s white elite. In this series of images I placed focus on this particular group and the people who work for them, with the aim of creating a portrait of this class.
There is a substantial economic rift between my subjects: the inhabitants of the homes and those who work for them. A racial and cultural hierarchy highlights South Africa’s apartheid past, where generally black South Africans were in a lower income bracket than their white counterparts. This rings true in the images in my series, where all of the employers – the owners of the houses and estates where the images are located – are white, while their employees are black.
What method did you follow for shooting it? (how you contact the families, camera, etc.)
I was linked to all of my subjects as I knew all of my subjects either personally- through school/university, or through my parents. The fact that I knew them all is important as I wanted this to be an investigation into the particular social environment I knew growing up. I wanted to highlight the perceived, and not necessarily real, perfection of my subjects lives. I aimed to do this through dramatic lighting, highlighting my subjects in their envieonments. There was an aspect of performance that I tried to emphasise in this work.
How do you feel about the final result? Did you get to capture it as you wanted to?
Looking back there are always things I’d like to change. I am never really completely happy with anything. At the moment I feel I have so much to learn, and each project I take on is a learning process. I am discovering new methods of working, and finding out further about my subjects as I work through a project.
Is there any artist/photographer that you admire or follow his work?
I am very inspired by the work of South African artists Pieter Hugo. I also love the work of photographers Stefan Ruiz, Hassan Hajjaj and Omar Victor Diop. Mark Peckmezian has an aesthetic that I really like.
You’re very young. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would love to have had my work exhibited by then. I would also love to have published a book. I feel like there are many things I would like to have achieved in 5 years time, but I want to continue in the field of photography, and I want to keep pursuing my interests through my personal work. Hopefully people might be interested in what I am showing.
Do you have a life motto?
I hope to always be motivated enough to pursue my interests. I don’t want to lose that vision.