Photofesta, Maputo, 2002
by Michael Godby
Photofesta, Maputo, 2002, is the latest of a series of photography festivals that have sprung up in Africa over the past few years. Still in its infancy, it is dwarfed in relation to the Bamako Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine and the Cape Town Month of Photography, but it makes interesting comparison with them. Whereas the Bamako festival clearly intends to operate as a showcase for the photography of the continent and the Cape Town festival, with few exceptions, draws together more regional contemporary material, Photofesta seems to want to place Mozambican photography in its African context. Moreover, Photofesta, in paying tribute to past Mozambican photographers, is creating an historical context for contemporary practice. Although vague at this stage, and certain to be refined over time, these references constitute a curatorial policy that contrasts with both the directorial approach adopted at Bamako and the open invitation practiced to date in Cape Town. Significantly, this policy reproduces certain characteristics of the Association of Mozambican Photographers (AMF), some of whose members organized the festival, for the Association was brought into being as a collective of documentary photographers by Samora Machel and it remains strongly committed to social issues. In the same spirit, the organizers ensure that the several exhibitions of Photofesta rotate in different quarters of Maputo; and they involve themselves in visual and photographic literacy projects in underprivileged areas as part of the Festival.
Contemporary Mozambican photography was represented by a collective show of the AMF - which for the benefit of outsiders, at least, could have been unpacked into several separate shows by individual photographers or, possibly, on chosen themes. Fifteen of these photographers are participating in a major traveling exhibition - and catalogue - under the title Iluminando Vidas - Ricardo Rangel and the Mozambican Photography, and it was a pity that this show was not available for Photofesta. Luis Abelard contributed an exhibition of travel photography; and Natalie Bockel an exhibition of intimate landscapes. From Mozambique's past, there was a slightly pointless exhibition of archival photographs of the early twentieth century, mainly of the history of Maputo. There was a homage to Sebastao Langa, the first Black photographer in Mozambique who operated mainly in Maputo from the 1940s to the 1970s: fortunately, this work has also been published in book form. There was a homage to Rogerio (Pereira), a remarkable photographer who worked in Johannesburg in the sixties and seventies, then Mozambique and, until his death in 1987, Portugal, experimenting with extreme tonal contrasts, grain, double exposures and light effects, all in the documentary idiom. And there was a homage to Daniel Maquinasse, one of the principal photo-journalists of the Revolution who died in the same plane crash as Machel in 1986. From around Africa, there was a small collection from the last Rencontres at Bamako and an exhibition from Boubakar Toure, the Senegalese photographer who creates a sort of magical realism with pure colour. There was a (rather uneven) collective show from Zimbabwe. And there were four shows from South Africa. Alf Kumalo was a guest of honour and his work was featured in the AMF gallery; the work of students at the Kumalo Institute was also shown; and Kumalo himself gave a presentation with Ricardo Rangel, the godfather figure of the present generation of Mozambican documentary photographers, whose presence was strongly felt throughout the festival. Also from South Africa was the exhibition After Apartheid: 10 South African Documentary Photographers, curated by Michael Godby; and Fanie Jason's essay on HIV/AIDS Living in Denial. The festival included lectures, presentations, film shows, receptions and addresses. Photofesta is supported materially by several French, Swiss and Scandinavian Aid Organizations, and it is enthusiastically endorsed by the Department of Culture in the Mozambique government.
Photofesta Maputo exhibitions were held in the Museu Nacional de Arte and venues across the city from October 15 to November 15.