We interview Ben Krewinkel on his collaborative series that delves into Mozambique’s past, present and future, soon to be exhibited at Lagos Photo Festival 2015.
In 2010 Lagos Photo Festival launched as the first and only international photography festival in Nigeria, Africa’s booming economic centre. Over the course of a month the festival creates a platform for exhibition and discussion of the African design.
The sixth edition of Lagos Photo Festival Designing Futures, welcomes 22 international artists exploring identity, ecology and culture. As the opening of the festival quickly approaches on 24 October we interview each of the photographers to gain some understanding of their inspirations behind their works.
We interview photographer, Ben Krewinkel who’s documentary-style work on Mozambique is almost like a contemporary continuation of Dutch photo-journalist Frits Eisenloeffel’s work. Esienloeffel documented much of Mozambique’s battle for independence as well as the steps leading up to independence in many other African nation’s. Merging past and present Krewinkel penetrates the present culture, through planned interviews and spontaneous encounters.
What can we expect from your work at this year’s LagosPhoto?
I’m not quite sure yet, since LagosPhoto is still working on the production of the exhibition. Although one definitely needs the texts to fully understand the project, the work will offer the public a look into Mozambique’s past, present and future. Through the photographs made by Frits Eisenloeffel around 1975 and the ones I took more recently the public will be introduced to the people who designed and still are designing modern day Mozambique.
What themes did you explore?
A wide range of themes actually. The main theme of course is the design of modern day Mozambique, but there are a lot of aspects which influence this. Themes like war, migration, colonialism, revolution, youth, poverty, Chinese influence, socialism, capitalism etc. etc.
What are some of your greatest inspirations? What were some of your inspirations for the work you will be exhibiting in Lagos?
Well there are so many. For this project the Dutch journalist Frits Eisenloeffel has been a catalyst. In the book I juxtaposed his photographs with mine. But there are so many photographers who I admire and who inspire me. First and foremost there is Gilles Peress. His works Telex Iran and The Silence I hold in high esteem. Then you have David Goldblatt, Koen Wessing (actually a cousin of Frits), Don McCullin, Ricardo Rangel, the quite unknown Japanese photographer Tadahiro and more recently Rob Hornstra and Alec Soth. I’m sure I missed some.
What was your creation process like and how long was preparation?
For this project I applied a very fast approach. With an old friend, Jan Bezuidenhout I travelled many miles though Mozambique. It was like a road trip in which we had brief encounters with Mozambicans. Some encounters were planned, others just happened. The interviews with old revolutionaries took most preparation. Since they fought for Frelimo (the party which is still in power) we had to get an accreditation from the government. The veterans are still part of Frelimo.
What do you do when you hit a creative roadblock?
I don’t know. Read some (photo) books and listen to music I guess.
How does it feel to be presenting your work during LagosPhoto?
I feel very honoured to be part of this widely know photo festival. The fact the work will be shown together with the work of great artists makes me feel good. I think curator Cristina de Middel did a great job selecting these artists.
How can having a collective of African creativity be important?
Yes, I think so. It is always good to collaborate in this field. I also think ‘Africans’ should cooperate in sending their messages to the world. A lot of great work comes from African photographers and there is a lot of work I’m not familiar with. I think LagosPhoto is doing a great job here. Furthermore I welcome all kinds of cross-pollination between, in this case, African and ‘Western’ photography.
What do you feel is the role of art and photography in African development?
It is good when art and photography are being used to send messages to the world. It can help to show how Africa is developing. I’m not saying that art always has to give a positive view on the African continent, but it can definitely help to bring some balance to the perception of Africa that many non-Africans have. It can function to strengthen cross-cultural understanding. On the other hand, the role of art in Africa can be the same as everywhere else for instance to document history, create social cohesion etc.
May I please ask what your connection to Mozambique is now, do you return and have you made relationships with the people you met while there?
My connection with Mozambique started back in 1997 when I visited the country for the first time as a student of history. It resulted in a thesis on the role women played in the liberation of the country. In 2000 I returned and in 2013 I started working on the project Looking for M. I met many people, but most of the encounters were quite brief. The only person I still have a relationship is the director of the Mozambican Photographic Association (Associação Moçambicana de Fotografia). We are trying to make an exposition of Looking for M. in Maputo and see if we can set up some sort of educational photographic project for students. These things work slowly, since we both need to find the financial recourses to realise the project.
Also do you feel like your work has somehow changed your perception of the country, what did you learn from creating the series?
No, my perception of the country didn’t really change, since I’m rather familiar with its ‘recent’ history.What is very interesting is to find out how quickly this country seems to develop. There is already a huge difference between 1997 and 2013. You can see this everywhere. To me the country and especially the people seem even more friendly than before. Although Mozambique still has it’s problems, I still felt a very positive vibe throughout the country.
When 24 October- 27 November 2015
Where Diverse locations in Lagos, Nigeria
Curator Cristina De Middel
For More on Ben Krewinkel
For More on Lagos Photo Festival 2015