4x Africa

MAIN GALLERY: 01/27/11 – 02/26/11


Four artists, four takes on one continent. Or rather, four very different approaches to capturing the essence of what they’ve experienced in Africa. Gloria Baker Feinstein travels to Uganda photographing the orphaned children whose stories swell our hearts. Her images are at once tragic and beautiful, lyrical black and white portraits of innocence and experience. And then there is Brendan Bannon who normally photographs what others find difficult to view: refugees, AIDS patients, Somali pirates, dumpsites, but here at RayKo he will show the pictures that came in between his journeys across the continent: pastoral Africa, with images like the smallest boy minding the largest herd of camels I’ve ever seen. Another photographer, Elaine Ling has become obsessed with the Baobab tree, the gigantic trees, 1,000 years old, tower over the humans that share the land with them. Elaine, thanks to her 4×5 camera, attempts to make prints as big as the Baobab itself.Chris Smith, magazine writer and photographer based here in San Francisco, focuses on a part of Africa fewer folks think of: Urban Africa, with his raw color photographs of the unexpected beauty of some of the grittier cities on the continent. This RayKo exhibition displays four diverse

views of one mysterious and amazing place: 4xAfrica

Gloria Baker Feinstein’s Uganda: there was a war there, and there is AIDS; both have devastated entire families with broad sweeping strokes. Often children are left to fend for themselves. Sometimes they are taken in by aunts, often by grandmothers, and in many cases by an orphanage or boarding school. There is comfort in that, and there is anguish too. Baker Feinstein photographs these children and their surroundings. Sometimes the faces of the children cloud over with something she has no way of recognizing. At other times, as a mother and fellow citizen of the world, the mixture of pain and joy is all too familiar. That combination, that contradiction, that fact of life is what she has tried to address with these pictures.

Brendan Bannon is a photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He has photographed all over the continent, in Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Congo. Bannon’s interest in photography was sparked by his mother, an amateur photographer with a darkroom in the bathroom, and his father, who placed him at age 10 in front of drawers of antique photographs and asked him to select the interesting ones for an exhibition on the history of photography. His interest in the medium was constant but his professional career began in 2000. During his 20′s Bannon took care of his mother who had multiple sclerosis, an experience he credits with informing his approach to photography. “I don’t shy away from difficult stories. The experience of taking care of my mother showed me clearly that behind every moment of perceived suffering there is a profound victory over circumstances. I look at people’s lives as being full of meaningful relationships, striving against the odds and achieving small victories.” The images he chose to show are from a series called “Pastoral Africa,” which are definitely a departure from his journalistic pictures of Somaliland pirates and LRA refugees in South Sudan.

Out of the arid and infertile regions of Africa, Madagascar and Australia, the Baobab Tree grows to a gigantic size, one of the largest living things in the world. With a potential lifespan exceeding 1,000 years, the miracle of this tree is that it is a renewable source of material for the essentials of life: textiles, nets, baskets and roofing. Its fruit is a rich source of nutrition and medicine. Elaine Ling is intrigued by the role that this thousand year old giant plays in the lives of its human neighbors. It is an enduring presence, perhaps older than the legends passed down from generation to generation, its roots deeply intertwined with daily existence. The images in this exhibition reflect both the resilience and transience of life as Ling partners the Baobab with a person from the community: a grandmother, a grandfather, a young man, a young woman, a mother, a boy child, a girl child. She searches for a person who happens to be living within close proximity of the tree to capture their unique relationship. This project encompasses portraits of people of many origins with their trees. These images are from Mali, South Africa, Madagascar, and Tanzania.

Mention Africa, and most people think of savannas and deserts, game parks and thatched-roof huts. Much like the rest of the world, however, Africa is rapidly urbanizing–by 2015, close to half of the continent’s population will live in cities. In South Africa, for instance, the Johannesburg metropolitan area is a mass of office towers, low-rise suburbs, and shantytowns holding almost 9 million people, with more arriving every day in search of opportunities the countryside can’t provide. Places like this are increasingly the story of how Africans live. In photos taken from Cairo to the Cape over the course of the last decade, Chris Smith has attempted to show something of these newly urban lives.