View the video on Hasan and Husain Essop at the V&A exhibition Figures and Fictions and write a short reflective commentary in your learning log or blog.
Setting aside my recent hangup on whether constructed images should be considered documentary photography (I decided I could live with “semi-documentary“…), I found the Essop bothers’ approach really fascinating.
They responded to an external (in their case religious) constraint in a highly innovative way:
“There’s this idea in Islam that it’s not very permissible to put up pictures of people on your wall and we grew up with that… It’s like [Hasan]’s managed to find a loophole: use yourself – any judgment that occurs is going to be only on yourself.” (V&A 2011)
What this means is that they act out all parts in their mises-en-scènes and digitally stitch them together to make composite pseudo-documentary images. It’s a really interesting reaction to the limitation, and further proof that there are many ways of portraying documentary ‘truths’ without depicting real-life scenes.
Their images are meticulously planned and executed – they have to be, as they essentially need to align multiple elements at different times, like a kind of temporal jigsaw puzzle. However, it’s this meticulous planning that makes me see these as incredibly clever pieces of art, but not so much true to the spirit of documentary photography.
To reiterate though – they are inspirational to me, not because I plan to emulate their style, but simply because they found a new and interesting way of working. I admire that.