maandag 10 oktober 2011

Postcard from the Congo Carl de Keyzer Photography

CONGO belge en images
Carl De Keyzer & Johan Lagae

Unseen archive photographs of Belgian Congo

Congo belge en images starts from the wealth of visual material on Congo's colonial past. From the immense archive of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Carl De Keyzer and Johan Lagae selected 100 photographs of Belgian Congo which have never been published before. The concept was not so much a historical overview of photography in Belgian Congo, but rather a presentation of "talking images" that are the fall-out of a "voyage of discovery" throughout the collections of the Royal Museum in Tervuren.

Carel De Keyzer, a Belgian top photographer and member of the renowned agency Magnum, created a number of photographs that provide a penetrating picture of the vestiges of Belgium in modern Congo. He followed the route of tourist attractions from the colonial period as described in an old travel guide; The result is a unique series of photographs with historical significance, which is confrontational because it evokes questions about the way Belgium fleshed out colonization from the architectural and urban viewpoint, as well as about the causes of the present state of chaos and decay.


Last Tuesday evening, amid the din and sweat of a Magnum fundraiser on Mott Street , Carl de Keyzer  and I stole a few quiet moments to discuss his latest book, “Congo (Belge).” De Keyzer, like fellow Belgian photographer Cedric Gerbehaye, undertook the project in anticipation of the anniversary, fifty years ago today, of Congo’s independence from Belgium, and I was eager to have a look. The book itself felt weighty as I balanced it on my knees. “The idea was to copy a colonial book of a Belgian administrator working in the jungle or in a distant office in Belgium, designing the plan for a Belgian utopia in Central Africa,” de Keyzer explained.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s ongoing conflict, violence against women, and failure to harness natural resources has drawn attention from several photographers, from Marcus Bleasdale to Richard Mosse. De Keyzer takes a quieter approach, focussing on the ruins of colonial architecture and moments from daily life: a couple inside the Academy of Fine Arts; a child walking on his hands near a U.N. truck and the Cathedral of Bishopric. When considered with the companion book, “Congo Belge en Images”—a selection of images from the colony, including some, rarely seen, from the era of King Leopold II—the work confronts you with the stark realities and repercussions of colonialism.
Though de Keyzer told me that President Joseph Kabila refused to allow the work to be shown in the D.R.C., sixteen thousand copies of the book have been sold, and sixty thousand people attended a show in Antwerp. “People left the exhibition in tears,” de Keyzer said. “The subject is a bit taboo in Belgium. The work revealed things, and people really started talking—though more about the content than the photos.” As de Keyzer recognizes, “The work is really more about Belgium than Congo. It’s about the idea of white people who think they can build a paradise with no regard for who lives there.”
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