Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Exposure

Exhibition review by Taous R. Dahmani

A journey to Nottingham Contemporary prompts reflection on Tina M. Campt’s method of “writing to art” in Taous R. Dahmani’s review of Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s Exposure. Dahmani writes to Sepuya’s introspective world, where intricate dialogues between mirrors, photography and identity unfold, challenging traditional spectatorship dynamics. Through a lens of queer and black representation, Sepuya’s work invites viewers to confront societal norms, embrace complexity, and navigate the fluid boundaries of self-presentation.


Taous R. Dahmani | Exhibition review | 14 May 2024

On a morning train to Nottingham, I decided to revisit a passage from Tina M. Campt’s A Black Gaze (2021). When the book came out, I had highlighted this sentence: ‘Seated cross-legged on the floor is my go-to position for writing to art.’ The statement struck a chord with me, prompting a personal vow to try Campt’s method. This visit seemed the perfect chance, but once there, I feared the invigilators might find it unconventional. Would I be allowed to sit on the floor of Nottingham Contemporary, ‘sliding down a wall and claiming the undervalued real estate of a gallery floor,’ as Campt wrote? The reason why I wanted to attempt that strategy in order to “write toPaul Mpagi Sepuya’s exhibition was because Campt claimed it ‘minimis[ed] you as a viewer and maximis[ed] the work itself,’ adding: ‘Looking up at [the artwork] both breaks up and breaks down some of the traditional dynamics of spectatorship and visual mastery. And when the subject of that art is Black folks, challenging the dynamics of spectatorship and visual mastery is an extremely important intervention.’

I first encountered Sepuya’s work in 2020 at his solo show in London’s Modern Art, where black figuration and constructed stills through layered acts of looking were key. Four years later, upon entering Exposure at Nottingham Contemporary, I was greeted by a camera on a tripod before a black curtain held by a disembodied brown hand and bulldog clips. Facing this first photograph, I noticed my reflection in the protective glass, positioning my head’s shadow where the operator would be. At that moment, I realised that directly facing Sepuya’s work, rather than ‘looking up’ at it, might be beneficial. This exhibition wasn’t the place for Campt’s method of claiming gallery floors; Sepuya’s large-scale pieces demand that we meet them eye-to-eye.

As I approached Mirror Study (_Q5A2059) (2016), I understood that I was looking at Sepuya’s camera – meaning a mirror must have been placed between the lens and me. This apparatus, and placement of the mirror, suggests the artist is more concerned with what surrounds his camera – objects, people, himself – than with the eventual viewers. The mirror acts as a barrier, its thin reflective metal layer atop glass designed to bounce light back, prompting rumination on the idea of reflection, the image created by light and about photography. In The Mirror and the Palette (2021), Jennifer Higgie elucidated that Johannes Gutenberg opened a mirror-making business in 1438, and within just six years, he pioneered the invention of the printing press. This progression connects the concept of reflection to the notion of infinite reproduction, which ultimately lays the groundwork for photographic theory. Indeed, the coexistence of photography and mirrors has become paradigmatic. In his seminal 1978 essay, which serves as the introduction to the catalogue for his exhibition Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960, John Szarkowski leveraged the metaphor of the mirror to explore the introspective and personal approaches photographers bring to their medium. Similarly, the mirror is an integral part of Sepuya’s artistic process, acting as a catalyst that facilitates layers of analysis of his surroundings. Since 2010, the artist has focused on the artist’s studio as a subject, employing a self-imposed limitation akin to the protocols of a conceptual artist. He describes this approach as a strategy to ‘limit the number of variables as the clearest way to pose a question.’

As I progressed to the next set of images, the initially elusive figure of the photographer gradually emerged. Sepuya skilfully navigates the frame, either concealing or unveiling fragments of his undressed body, and thus, his identity. He delicately reveals details of his anatomy, including the hairs on his neck and arms, and close-ups of his back and torso. Photograph after photograph, his progressive apparition transforms the studio into a stage. We are witnessing the documentation of a performance, a play with characters and, of course, a message. The photographs or the mirror – in Sepuya’s world they are in constant dialogue – predominantly depict self-portraits or portraits of close friends and lovers. Beyond mere self-recognition through self-representation, there is a definitive act of self-presentation; a celebration of the artist’s freedom and agency. The performed gestures subvert gender binaries and reclaim their fluidities, so much so that Sepuya quite literally blurs surfaces and thus boundaries. We observe the movement of bodies on a stage, enacting intimacy and at the same time rendering a political identity that is both queer and black. Sepuya’s photographs recall the words of Judith Butler, who noted in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993) that the performative aspect of gender enables subversive actions capable of challenging and destabilising conventional norms. By inviting his friends to act for the mirror-camera in his studio-stage, Sepuya creates an experimental sanctuary for the development of a queer visual language. Engaging with Sepuya’s photographs is not straightforward; they challenge us to interpret and decode, but, at the same time, the repeated frameworks facilitate a steady understanding of his visual strategy. If, indeed, the mirror is not just a reflection but a boundary, then viewers are mere welcomed spectators. The exhibition feels like an invitation to partake in the acknowledgment of too often marginalised queer black and brown individuals. Viewers are brought into their proximity, invited to stand alongside them, yet rightfully kept at bay.

Sepuya’s work draws from a rich history of queer imagery, from the kouros figures of Ancient Greece to Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s Snap Shot (1987) and Caravaggio’s ephebes. These motifs have come to symbolise queer identity, thus raising the question: how can we interpret the revival of these motifs in today’s photographic production? As Sepuya bestowed, as an invitation to think complexly, ‘representation is not an agenda,’ and indeed his visual language strives for something more, something that revived, for me, José Esteban Muñoz’s Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999), Here, Muñoz discusses a process in which individuals tactically interact with societal norms to forge a self that critically diverges from mainstream culture. He emphasises behaviours and gestures as crucial to the identity formation of queers of colour, beginning his book with the statement: ‘There is a certain lure to the spectacle of one queer standing onstage alone, with or without props, bent on the project of opening up a world of queer language, lyricism, perceptions, dreams, visions, aesthetics and politics.” It leads one to question whether Muñoz is actually describing Sepuya’s own photographs some 20-odd-years before their creations.

The studio and its “inhabitants” are constants in Sepuya’s work, existing in a fluid space where time seems relative and ideas and iterations evolve and transform. In the second gallery, elements such as mobile mirror flats from the studio transition into exhibition structures showcasing his latest photographs. Unlike the first room where close examination was encouraged, here Sepuya invites viewers to navigate the photographs, guided by their spatial arrangement. He transforms the space by bridging the private theatricality of the studio with the shared communality of the gallery. Leaving the exhibition, and tucking away my copy with Campt’s book, I was reassured that sitting wasn’t necessary, as Sepuya himself ‘maximises’ his work. He shifts spectator dynamics, elevating and redefining engagement by challenging traditional approaches. On the train back to London, I was left with the feeling that visitors ought to stand in the gallery, embracing homoerotic pleasure, whilst also striving to become accustomed to nuanced discomfort and grappling with complex ideas about image-making. ♦

All images courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann Zurich/Paris © Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya: Exposure ran at Nottingham Contemporary until 5 May 2024.


Taous R. Dahmani is a London-based French, British and Algerian art historian, writer and curator. Her expertise centres around the intricate relationship between photography and politics, a theme that permeates her various projects. Since 2019, she has been the editorial director of 
The Eyes, an annual publication that explores the links between photography and societal issues. She is an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Dahmani’s curatorial work was showcased at Les Rencontres d’Arles, France, where she curated the Louis Roederer Discovery Award (2022). Dahmani is set to curate two exhibitions at Jaou Tunis, Tunisia (2024).

Images:

1-Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Twilight Studio (0X5A4176), 2022.

2-Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Model Study (0X5A7126), 2021.

3-Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Daylight Studio Camera Lesson (0X5A2613), 2022.

4-Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Pedestal (0X5A8997), 2022.

5-Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Studio Mirror (_DSF6207), 2023.

After the End of History

British Working Class Photography 1989–2024

Exhibition review by Lillian Wilkie

Debuting its tour at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry, After the End of History: British Working Class Photography 1989–2024, has been curated by writer and photographer Johny Pitts, with the exhibition’s title wittily alluding to Francis Fukuyama’s famed essay The End of History, citing an unfulfilled anticipation of global stability. As Lillian Wilkie examines, Pitts navigates the sociocultural turn of neoliberalism and creates a space for multiple, even conflicting truths of working-class life, challenging the dominance of singular historical narratives and entrenched social hierarchies. 


Lillian Wilkie | Exhibition review | 30 Apr 2024

‘The end of history will be a very sad time,’ writes Francis Fukuyama in the final paragraph of “The End of History?”, an essay published in The National Interest in the summer of 1989, which was later expanded into the 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man. ‘In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.’ He concludes: ‘Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.’

“It’s a bit tongue in cheek, the title,” Johny Pitts tells me on the opening day of After the End of History: British Working Class Photography 1989–2024, an exhibition that surveys photographic representations of working-class life in Britain since the collapse of European communism, and the cultural and creative forces emergent under neoliberalism. The photographer and writer has curated the exhibition for Hayward Gallery Touring, a programme of exhibitions that tour galleries, museums and other publicly funded venues throughout Britain; After the End of History debuts at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry before touring to Focal Point Gallery, Southend and Bonnington Gallery, Nottingham. Fukuyama’s thesis – that the triumph of liberal democracy as the dominant political and economic ideology after the fall of communism marked the end of humanity’s sociocultural and ideological evolution and a new era of geopolitical stability – has been much maligned, especially since 9/11, the rise of autocracies in China and Russia, and, notably, the crisis in living standards brought about by neoliberal capitalism. But through the lens of cultural theorists such as Mark Fisher and Natalie Olah, Pitts recognises the significance of this moment at the end of the 1980s: an optimistic, postmodern Britain on the cusp of the digital era. The title, tongue in cheek as it is, sets up the spirit of contradiction – that of a time after the “end of history” – which is one of two pillars defining the exhibition’s curatorial approach.

“I kept saying to the Hayward team that I want the show to be this big mess,” continues Pitts. “I think what I really meant was that I wanted it to be full of contradictions, like working-class life is. I didn’t want to reduce working-class people to avatars for some kind of moral or political point, which they so often are – sometimes for good reasons. I wanted to move beyond this tradition of middle-class people documenting working-class life, showing how tough it is. The reality of working-class life is way more ambivalent than that.” Starting from 1989, Pitts’ approach consciously departs from the socially-engaged, humanist documentary practices and worker photography collectives of the 1960s and 70s, and indeed the archetypal, paternalistic image of working-class people as largely white, male and soot-smeared. This, he believes, has shaped our expectations of what an exhibition of working-class photography might look like, something he seeks to upend. “I love that you’re going in and you think you’re going to see workers in pits and protests and stuff. And you don’t. You see Prince Naseem, and the glitches of the jungle scene.” Pitts is gesturing to two bodies of work just inside the entrance to the show. On the left, he has hung Trevor Smith’s kitschy studio portrait of the British-Yemeni boxer Naseem Hamed three times in a row (“I couldn’t decide which of the paper stocks I liked best, so in the end I chose all three. It gives it a Warhol element.”) On the opposite wall, Eddie Otchere’s saturated C-type prints of performers and ravers at jungle nights in mid-nineties London, with their sloppy borders and light leaks, are each a small essay in the sensorial correspondences between the darkroom and the nightclub. Pitts refers to these works as his “statement pieces”, setting the tone and intention for what is to come.

The exhibition features a diverse cohort of photographers, from art world approved names such as Hannah Starkey, Richard Billingham and Ewen Spencer, to new voices like Rene Matić, Serena Brown and Kavi Pujara. There are also what Pitts refers to as “jobbing” photographers: those working commercially, within communities, or outside of the gallery system, notably Trevor Smith and Josh Cole. Colour work abounds, leaping from deep brown walls featuring accents of day-glo yellow and typography referencing club flyer graphics. Music and clubbing emerge as crucial spaces for both the production of images and the construction of identities. Elaine Constantine’s pictures of dancers at Northern Soul nights at the 100 Club bear the energy, aggression and ecstasy of the dancefloor, depicting a tight-knit, highly coded scene forced further underground, united by a passion for rare cuts and all-nighters. The dancing bodies in Spencer’s photographs from Aya Napa in the glory days of UK garage are more self-conscious and aspirational, but no less libidinal. This was an unapologetically working-class subculture that sought the glamour of brand names and expensive liquor. “Spencer is not interested in what people want the working-class to look like, but what actually goes on,” Pitts explains. The histories of the Northern Soul, two-tone and ska scenes inform the work of Matić, whose practice navigates the complex intersections between West Indian and white working-class culture in Britain through photography and moving image: a self-defined genre they have coined “rudeness”, that promotes pleasure as a “mode of survival”.

From the dancefloor, the exhibition moves through contexts as diverse as the hotel, the hill farm, the council estate and the corner shop. The variety of photographic subjects and styles on display unavoidably raises the question of exactly what, at least within this exhibition’s rhetoric, makes a “working-class photographer”? A focus on “working-class” cultural expression after 1990 seems initially curious considering the end of the Cold War consolidated a new phase of neoliberalism that would ultimately leave workers further behind whilst simultaneously empowering them as consumers, reshaping the class structure entirely. Traditional taxonomies of upper, middle and working-class culture are now much more fragmentary and slippery, defined as much by social and cultural factors as well as occupation and education. A 2003 study on class by the BBC and six British universities found that the established three-tier model had disaggregated into seven class categories ranging from the “elite” to the “precariat”. Nonetheless, a key theme running through the selection is an interest in the circumstances and conditions in which photographic work is produced, and under what financial pressures. A number of the projects were produced within the context of the photographer’s day job, underscoring Pitts’ preoccupation with “art against-the-odds”. A vitrine, shaped to reference a bar or a DJ booth, houses photographs, ephemera and notes scribbled on napkins from Anna Magnowska’s bilateral working life as a café waitress and sexual health nurse, shapeshifting across social roles in Soho’s underbelly.

JA Mortram’s Small Town Inertia draws a sensitive portrait of marginalised lives in the Norfolk town of Dereham, shot whilst Mortram worked as a carer for his mother, experiencing the isolation and alienation of austerity Britain. Like Mortram, the works of the Merseyside-born photographer Chris Shaw force a lens on those who are largely rendered low-status or invisible. His Life as a Night Porter series presents the “social fantastic” of a London hotel’s twilight hours, confronting the often-unseen labours of those who live, work and play by night. These are just some of the projects in the exhibition that attempt to correct what Mortram identifies as an “imbalance of truth”, a contemporary response to the socially-engaged practices of the 1970s that argued for a “history from below”. Pitts is content for the working-class label to be contested. “I didn’t worry about it too much,” he says. “It’s a term that just really resonates with my own experience. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but if you know it, you know,” suggesting a methodology based more on instinct than fixed criteria, in defiance of the hypotheses of sociologists and academics; more felt than understood. This attitude speaks to the second pillar structuring the exhibition: that of autobiography.

‘I found Josh Cole’s work after I was sacked from Debenhams, Meadowhall,’ recalls Pitts in one of the exhibition’s wall texts. Elsewhere: ‘When I think of Sam Blackwood’s photographs without looking at them, they are populated by people I know. It’s always a surprise, then, to look at them and remember that the images are unpopulated, such is the subtle, sculptural composition of ingredients and spaces many of us recognise.’ The wall texts that accompany each body of work contrast institutional authority with personal testimony, divided as they are into more conventional museological descriptions, followed by poignant reflections from Pitts (in a way that feels novel and, in the context of the museum, excitingly disruptive) that elucidate on connections between the images and formative moments from his own life. He grew up in between two Yemeni families who were related to Prince Naseem, and the boxer was idolised. “These photographs remind me of staying up way past my bedtime, eating my neighbour’s khubz and lahmeh, to watch our hero beat someone in America, and then thank Allah for the win before bragging in the mixture of broad Yorkshire and African-American ebonics that so represented our culture.” In this way, the curatorial methodology emerges as less socioeconomic or even art historical, but autobiographical. A boombox by the entrance plays his sister’s cassette tapes, recorded from 1990s pirate radio in Sheffield – something he resolves to feature at every exhibition he does, “to soften the gallery space a little”.

One is left with the sense that the end of history for Fukuyama was the beginning of a new history for Pitts, who returned in 1990 from a period of living in Japan as a child to his home in working-class Sheffield, to find that most of his family were no longer working in factories and steelworks, but now had retail jobs in the new Meadowhall Shopping Centre, itself built on the site of a former steelworks. Through the images selected, Pitts navigates the material legacies and spectres of this sociocultural turn, and create space for multiple, even conflicting truths. In this way, the exhibition materialises as a counter-institutional gesture; a potential corrective to the complicity of the museum and institution – and indeed photography – in the enshrining of social hierarchies and the privileging of history in the singular. As he writes in his 2020 book Afropean, on the convolutions of Black experience in Europe, it serves as “[an] effort to begin with the personal in order to arrive at the universal”. After the End of History shows us the ways that photography has complicated traditional understandings of working-class identity and experience, and presents a vision of working-class life that, like (for the most part) art itself, resists taxonomy, transcends whiteness and promotes contradiction. If you know, you know. ♦

All images courtesy the artists, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, and Hayward Gallery Touring.

After the End of History: British Working Class Photography 1989–2024 begins its tour at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry and runs until 16 June 2024. 


Lillian Wilkie is a writer, editor, publisher and lecturer based in London and East Sussex. Her practice and research focus on arts publishing and its communities, photography and contexts, and marginal fashion media. She is the Director of Chateau International, an imprint producing books, zines, editions and programming, and Co-Director of Bound Art Book Fair at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester and INVENTORY Book Fair at Cromwell Place, London. She works in the book programme at Aperture. Her writing on photography, arts and publishing has appeared in titles including Modern Matter, Elephant, 1000 Words and C4 Journal. She lectures on photography and fashion media programmes at London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

Images:

1-Serena Brown, Bollo Bridge, 2018.

2-Ewen Spencer, Necking, Twice as Nice, Ayia Napa, 2001.

3-Serena Brown, Clayponds, 2018.

4-Kavi Pujara, Maharana Pratap & PC Ravat, Marjorie Street, 2021.

5-Richard Billingham, Untitled, 1993.

6-Anna Magnowska, Eros, 2019.

7-Rob Clayton, Early “Bush” Transistor Radio, 1990-91.

8-Rob Clayton, Lin, Careers Advisor and Mother, Wilson House, 1990-91.

9>10-Sam Blackwood, Rat Palace, 2013-ongoing.

11-J A Mortram, Small Town Inertia.

 

Rahim Fortune

Hardtack

Book review by Taous R. Dahmani

In his new book, Hardtack, Rahim Fortune compiles nearly a decade of work, blending documentary with personal history within the context of post-emancipation America. Through coming-of-age portraits that traverse survivalism and land migration, Fortune illustrates African American and Chickasaw Nation communities. As Taous R. Dahmani observes, the iconography of the American South is drawn between Fortune’s Hardtack and Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter, released only a few days after — both of which raise questions that serve to redefine ‘Americana’. 


Taous R. Dahmani | Book review | 17 Apr 2024

At the end of March, something very odd happened: Loose Joints dropped Rahim Fortune’s second photobook Hardtack, and, a few days later, Beyoncé released her eighth album Cowboy Carter. I can almost hear you – yes, you, reader – wondering, what’s the connection? Well, there are several. Firstly, it serves as the perfect soundtrack to look at Fortune’s photographs. As if sound was taking form. Beyoncé’s extensive 27-track list echoes Fortune’s 72 photographs; her lyrics resonating with his visual language. Both artists delve into the iconography and sound of cowboys, churches, southern mothers and daughters, rodeo, sashes and Fortune even closes his book with a “Queen Coronation”. Besides this serendipitous overlap, both artists also actively reclaim, redefine and adjust the notion of “Americana”. Wrapped in a denim-like cover, Hardtack speaks of a specific geography and moment: Texas today, the USA in the 2020s.

Beyond the anecdote of their shared Texas origins, both explore the history of the American South – one through music, the other through photography – connecting its past with its present. 2024 is a pivotal election year, with the southern states bearing a significant responsibility in shaping the country’s future (and, arguably, the world’s). Therefore, there is an urgent need to disseminate an alternative understanding or narrative of what the US might be. After all, the title of Fortune’s book, Hardtack, refers to an emergency survival food, made from flour, water and salt, signalling that we are in the midst of a critical juncture. At a time when states are banning books to erase chapters of US history, Hardtack feels like a welcomed defiance.

In her proudly made-in-America “country” album, Beyoncé embraces the soundscape of the southern states and her Black musical heritage, blending blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and gospel. Similarly, an incredible living encyclopaedia of American photography, Fortune quotes – or samples – his ancestors, from Walker Evans’s depictions of southern architecture to Roy DeCarava’s intimate portraits of Black life. Just as Beyoncé pays homage to Linda Martell, the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music, Fortune channels the social documentary style of Milton Rogovin, his portrayal of African-American communities akin to Earlie Hudnall Jr, and mirrors the political consciousness embodied by Consuelo Kanaga. Furthermore, Fortune examines Arthur Rothstein’s documentation of African-American families in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, originally captured for the Farm Security Administration and later featured in Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices (1941). With Hardtack, Fortune engages in a self-conscious dialogue with photography’s history.

The parallel between music and photography transcends mere coincidence; its potency lies in their shared democratic practice and dissemination, but it also resonates with what Tina M. Campt described in A Black Gaze (2021) as a ‘broader commitment to understanding visual culture through its entanglement with sound, and highlighting the centrality of sonic and visual frequency to the work of Black contemporary artists.’ Already, in 2017, Campt beckoned us to listen to images, and more recently, she revisited the idea employing the concept of frequency to challenge ‘how we see’, adding that ‘the physical and emotional labour required to see these images gives us profound insights into the everyday experiences of Black folks as racialised subjects.’ Listening to Fortune’s Hardtack is to pick up on various stories and histories such as the legacy of Gee’s Bend quilts, crafted by descendants of enslaved individuals who toiled on cotton plantations. These local women united to establish the Freedom Quilting Bee, a worker’s cooperative that enabled crucial economic opportunities and offered political empowerment. As Imani Perry eloquently states in the book’s concluding essay: ‘What we know as Black Texas was birthed through captivity. This land has been a bounty; and also a burden.’ Fortune captures the architecture of past power and oppression – the grand plantation houses alongside the slaves’ huts –and the remnants of this legacy, showcasing what barely survives in the wake of US history. Beyoncé’ sings in “YA YA” (2024): “My family lived and died in America, hm / Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh / History can’t be erased, oh-oh / Are you lookin’ for a new America? (America).” In “Night Ride Tracks, Archer, Florida” (2020), Fortune kneels down to capture the sunlight beaming on the old train tracks, which bear witness to the 1928 Rosewood massacre during the era of Jim Crow laws. In “AMEN” (2024), Beyoncé’s reminds her listener: “This house was built with blood and bone / And it crumbled, yes, it crumbled.

On the following page, Fortune presents a captivating portrait of his partner, Miranda, underscoring that his documentation of the American South is as personal as it is political. With roots in both the African-American and Chickasaw Nation communities, Fortune traverses rural towns that are close to his heart, pausing to engage in conversations with friends. Fortune embraces the formal conventions of documentary traditions whilst ushering us into novel sensations and uncharted emotional territories. Opening the book, we can almost grasp the wind, and, as we delve deeper, we feel the humidity of the Mississippi enveloping us, the scorching sun on the road casting its light upon each image. His photographs record what stands proud, what is forced to break, what disappeared but can still be traced. In Fortune’s photographs, people are praying, watching, playing, waiting, celebrating, caring and driving; leading an unremarkable life because ‘attending to the infraordinary and the quotidian reveals why the trivial, the mundane, or the banal are in fact essential to the lives of the dispossessed and the possibility of black futurity.”’ Texas also serves as the backdrop for Fortune’s personal grief – as depicted in his first book I can’t stand to see you Cry (2021) – and serves as a place where remembrance holds paramount importance, as evidenced by the tattooed dates of key life moments on his friend’s skin. Fortune’s Hardtack is a poignant tribute, both a requiem for those lost and a homage to those whose actions altered the course of history. Yet, it is also a celebration, capturing the essence of joy found in everyday moments and special occasions alike. It is this unique and delicate coexistence of remembrance and revelry that imbues Hardtack with its profound resonance, showcasing the depth of Fortune’s artistic maturity.♦

All images courtesy the artist and Loose Joints. © Rahim Fortune

Hardtack is published by Loose Joints.


Taous R. Dahmani is a London-based French, British and Algerian art historian, writer and curator. Her expertise centres around the intricate relationship between photography and politics, a theme that permeates her various projects. Since 2019, she has been the editorial director of
The Eyes, an annual publication that explores the links between photography and societal issues. She is an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Dahmani’s curatorial work was showcased at Les Rencontres d’Arles, France, where she curated the Louis Roederer Discovery Award (2022). Dahmani is set to curate two exhibitions at Jaou Tunis, Tunisia (2024).

Images:

1-Rahim Fortune, Windmill House, Hutto, Texas, 2022.

2-Rahim Fortune, Praise Dancers, Edna, Texas, 2022.

3-Rahim Fortune, Willies Chapel, Austin, Texas, 2021.

4-Rahim Fortune, Hardware, Granger, Texas, 2018.

5-Rahim Fortune, Highway I-244 (Greenwood), Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2021.

6-Rahim Fortune, Gas Pump, Selma, Alabama, 2023.

7-Rahim Fortune, Deonte, New Sweden, Texas, 2022.

8-Rahim Fortune, Ace (Miss Juneteenth), Galveston, Texas, 2022.

9-Rahim Fortune, Night Ride Tracks, Archer, Florida, 2020.

10-Rahim Fortune, Tinnie Pettway, Gee’s Bend, Alabama, 2023.

11-Rahim Fortune, VHS Television, Dallas, Texas, 2021.

12-Rahim Fortune, Abandoned Church, Otter Creek, Florida, 2020.