Can an "outsider" tell the story of a culture or people?

17jul1:00 pm2:30 pmCan an "outsider" tell the story of a culture or people?A talk about the power and responsibility of visual narrative1:00 pm - 2:30 pm(GMT+00:00)

Event Details

Who Represents Whom? Photographic representation in the 21st Century

Friday, July 17
1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. (ET)

Register for This Free Talk

Join Focus on the Story and ZEKE magazine as we tackle the debate about representation in documentary photography and the question about who can best tell the stories of a culture or people. Can an “outsider” bring the needed perspective to the task and is there common ground that also respects the rights of the subjects to control their own narratives? Join panelists Lekgetho Makola, head of Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa; Niama Safia Sandy, a New York-based cultural anthropologist and curator; and John Willis, a documentary photographer and retired visual arts professor, as they talk about the power and responsibility of visual narrative. Glenn Ruga, executive editor of ZEKE magazine, will moderate.

Since its origins in 1839, photography has often been employed by one group of practitioners to make images, and hence narratives, about another group. Whether it was Edward Curtis (1868-1952) photographing the plains Indians, or Bruce Davidson in 1968-69 photographing Spanish Harlem, the results of each–a photographer from outside the communities they have documented — have become a canon of both photographic history and central to our understanding of the subjects. There are also many situations of Black photographers photographing documenting their own culture as is the case of Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) photographing Pittsburgh’s Black communities, or African photographers Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) and Malick Sidibé (1935-2016) photographing Ghanian society.

Today, as we witness — often through photographs — the struggle for the rights of Black Americans and the demand for a wholesale redefinition of criminal justice codes, the question of who gets to represent whom is no longer an academic discussion but gets to the heart and sole of the public’s understanding and response to the most critical issue facing America today.

Photo by John Willis. “Leading the Daily Women’s Water Prayers” from Mni Wiconi, Water is Life: Honoring the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and Everywhere in the Ongoing Struggle for Indigenous Sovereignty

About the Panel

Lekgetho Makola is head of Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. He sits on the International Advisory Committee to the Board of CatchLight – San Francisco, and was on the Curatorial Advisory Committee of the 2017 Bamako Encounters – Mali. He was in the judging panels for the W. Eugene Smith International Photography Award 2016, CAP Prize Award 2017/2019, Ernest Cole Photography Awards 2017, the Thami Mnyele Arts Awards 2017/2018, the World Press Photo Global Talent Programme – Africa Region 2018 and the World Press Photo Jury-Portraiture 2019 and Chair of Jury of 2020 World Press Photo Award. He is an International Ford Foundation Fellow on Social Justice 2009, and a Graduate of Howard University in Washington DC USA with a MFA in Film Studies 2013. He worked for the Durban Art Museum, Robben Island Museum including an internship at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. He co-founded Kali TV, an online media platform in 2012. Lekgetho is on the Advisory Committee of the Social Documentary Network.

Glenn Ruga is Executive Editor of ZEKE magazine and founder and director of the Social Documentary Network (SDN). From 2010-2013, he was the Executive Director of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University. From 1995-2007 he was the Director, and then President, of the Center for Balkan Development. Social Documentary Network (SDN) is a global community of documentary photographers, editors, curators, NGOs, students, journalists and others who believe in the power of visual storytelling to build understanding and appreciation for the complexities of the world today. In 2015, SDN began publishing ZEKE: The Magazine of Global Documentary.

Niama Safia Sandy is a New York-based cultural anthropologist, curator, musician and essayist. Her curatorial practice delves into the human story through the application and critical lenses of culture, healing, history, migration, music, race and ritual. She sees her role as one who endeavors to simultaneously call into question and make sense of the seemingly arbitrary nature of modern life and to celebrate our shared humanity in the process. Her aim is to leverage history, the visual, written and performative arts, and chiefly those of the Global Black Diaspora, to tell stories to lift us all to a higher state of historical, ontological and spiritual wholeness. Niama is an alumna of Howard University, University of London, and the No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab. She is a founding curator of the Southeast Queens Biennial which debuted in 2018. Sandy’s writing has been featured in Artsy, MFON: Women Photographers of the Black Diaspora, NAD NOW, and more.

John Willis is a photographer and professor of art at Marlboro College from 1990 until his retirement in 2020. He has received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Photography and many other grants, and his photographs are in more than sixty collections, among them the Amon Carter Museum, Center for Creative Photography, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, J. Paul Getty Museum, Heard Museum, High Museum of Art, Library of Congress, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, National Gallery of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and Whitney Museum of American Art. His books include Mni Wiconi / Water Is Life: Honoring the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and Everywhere in the Ongoing Struggle for Indigenous Sovereignty (George F. Thompson Publishing, 2019), Views from the Reservation: A New Edition (George F. Thompson Publishing, 2019; originally published in 2010 by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago), and, with Tom Young, Recycled Realities (Center for American Places, 2006). Currently his collaborative book project Requiem for the Innocent, El Paso and Beyond is being printed. The book is a collaboration with writer Robin Behn and composer Matan Rubenstein


(Friday) 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm ET(GMT+00:00)


Online: Zoom

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