The production of transformative knowledge in the experience of "Catchupa Factory" photographic residency

Alfredo Brant

Palavras-chave: photography; Africa; social imagination; visual narrative; Visual Literacy

Participação: presencial

Photography and Africa share a long (and conflicting) history. Photography arrived in the continent soon after its official announcement in Europe and was chiefly employed to consolidate the colonial power. The ideological use of photography was present in the classification of bodies and territories, as scientific data to justify theses of racial superiority, and as means of religious conversion. These applications forged a visuality of Africa based on exoticism and reinforced the oppression operated by colonial rule. However, local practitioners later appropriated the medium and adapted photography to their symbolic and communicative needs. Post-colonial studies have explored these issues offering a critical view of colonial photography and, later, shedding light on African artists employing Decolonial protocols in their practices.

However, the framework of these studies focuses mainly on the reception and circulation of these images in an artistic discursive arena. Although previous research provides important accounts of these changing paradigms, it overlooks the perspective of the ordinary image producer. Topics such as identity, racial issues, and decolonization seem to overpass the subject's sight in favor of the political agenda of the group it belongs. At the same time, in the analysis of the artistic process, the conceptual statement of the artwork overshadows the relation between researchers and their subjects.

Drawing upon my fieldwork experience at the 2021 edition of Catchupa Factory, an artistic residency in Cabo Verde for emergent African photographers from the PALOP (Portuguese-speaking African countries), our study diverts the focus to the perspective of the image producers and their subjective practices. The empirical reality of the initiative shows that participants share some motivations for producing photographs that reflect not only their post-colonial condition but also their dreams, desires, and everyday life experiences. Such entanglement between social and subjective domain allows the emergence of what Arjun Appadurai called "social imagination": a social fact that builds the base of an imagined world of plurality and is "a staging ground for action, and not only for scape". Through participatory-observation research, the present study undertook interviews with eleven participants and used Photo-elicitation as a methodological tool to understand the motivations of young photographers from Portuguese-speaking African countries.

Our preliminary results attest to the role of photographic practices in integrating a transformative knowledge insofar as it affords an engaged awareness of the world and of oneself as a cultural subject. We inquired into the participants' motivations, their photographic protocols, and the conceptual strategies they employ through photography-making. The actions performed point to a desire to document and (self)represent and a will to communicate and interact with the world. Overall, they illustrate contemporary visual practices based on the potentialities of photography as cultural action. Photography as a cultural action includes not only producers but also photographed subjects and the public in the production of meaning. Finally, these "ways of making" allow the emergence of counter- hegemonic narratives and a transformative knowledge that contributes to inclusive social-cultural practices and the development of Visual Literacy field.


Alfredo Brant is a PhD candidate at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Lisbon. He holds a BA in Journalism from Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (2005), Brazil, and a BA in Arts (2008) and MA in Photography and Contemporary Arts (2010), both from Université Paris 8. As an artist and photographer working with documentary photography and portraiture, Brant has participated in several collective exhibitions and was awarded the Prize Arte Creative (2013) for Portrait de l’Expatrié. In 2015, the Gallery Duo hosted his first solo exhibition in Paris. His current investigation approaches knowledge production through photographic practices among emergent African photographers. He is developing the concept of Documentary-Poiesis as a Visual Literacy tool to promote engaged modes of photographic production.