A discussion on work my on the war in Angola has been included in an essay by historian, Afonso Dias Ramos, in the University College of London’s (UCL) History of Art Department’s postgraduate journal, Object 17. Titled, ‘Imageless in Angola: Appropriating Photography’, the paper deals with the relationship between political violence and photography in contemporary art, particularly within the transnational context surrounding the liberation and the civil conflict in Angola (1961-2002). This piece form is part of a wider body of research towards Ramos’ PhD dissertation, Imageless in Angola: Living through the aftermath of war. Reinventing the photographic medium in a transnational age. See the full article on the UCL website, here.
David Brits produced SADF Facebook Series [in] 2011. These are also pictures of conscripts in the Border War but in this case purloined by Brits from veteran groups online, which in the absence of official public fora, have allowed for images to be shared. Indeed, as Rory Bester reminds us, ‘The dead remains of this era of South African history are scattered in photo albums, hidden in clothes cupboards, mostly forgotten,often forsaken’. The image typifies such portraits of soldiers stiffly posed alongside weaponry in a display of male bravado. But Brits’ intervention mars the figure’s identity. The soldier’s face is blackened out with ink and scratched off violently, ripping the pigments off the paper. Similar strategies of defacement are brought to bear on the other photographs downloaded for this series, whose mundane visions only show soldiers posing theatrically, playing football or swimming together.
[…] Brits disrupt[s] the implied secrecy of the pictures intended as keepsakes to be shared among fellow troops. Opposing state policies to confined war to the domestic lens of the family rather than as public event, these artists open up the private snapshots as political. They bring the war home by literally forcing it out of it, but cognisant that the repressive mechanisms which conditioned the production and consumption of images also prescribe what lies within their frame. The Portuguese were not allowed to capture sensitive areas on film. South Africans faced jail if caught with a camera. Our vision of the events in Angola is therefore largely reliant on portraits of, by, and among friends, and even these were censored since undesirable negatives were confiscated from studios by the authorities: ‘Photos were dropped at civilian central labs, and ultimately everything was censored. [. . .] None of the photos I took of bodies came back. I only received photos of damaged buildings and burnt-out vehicles – non-offensive and non-sensitive stuff’. Although hard to find today, such trophy photographs did circulate, as necessary doubles to the innocuous portraits that rule our visual imagination. Barroca himself considers the most haunting aspect about his album to be one image of a black man beaten to death he found hidden behind the banal snapshots, snapping into relief such complex relays of visibility and invisibility.