HIPUganda weekly, July 11th-18th, identifying interiors

This week’s most popular post was not seen by many more people than some of the others. The two images of the interior of Namirembe Cathedral (this one, and this one), made probably around 1930, were a good second with less than 200 less ‘views’. I find these church interiors endlessly fascinating and disorienting. It could be anywhere it seems. And then there is the black choir boys and the otherwise white congregation that gives us a clue of the time and circumstances in which the photographs were made.

Some things changed, as an rephotograph made in 2015 by Luuk van den Berg shows. But, and here is where the Namirembe interiors link to the Library interiors, what makes us know what we are seeing when colour and the third dimension of space are taken away from us? What is it that catches our attention. What is it that we attach meaning to?

The photographs made by Dr. A.T. Schofield and by Luuk have probably about 80 years between them. When we showed them in two exhibitions earlier this year, more than one onlooker was confused about what they saw. In the Netherlands that confusion included the place presented. This did not look like Africa.

In an attempt to understand more about these photographs i invited three photographers to respond to them. Elsadig Mohamed from Sudan explored the value of detail and focus, while Uganda artist Rumanzi Canon constructed or distorted (depending on how you look at it) the spaces into planets and spheres. I asked Luuk, who then still was my student in the Netherlands, to come over and remake the Schofield photographs with the same kind of camera that was used almost a century earlier. This means a rather large machine, operated while mounted onto a tripod. Think old school, with a photographer who seems to be hiding under black cloth. The negatives made by the camera and photographer are of a large size, and black and white. The camera asks for a slow mode of making photographs. Every step, framing, measuring light, focussing etc., must be thought through and taken carefully, otherwise chances are rather that there will not be a resulting image.

The first photograph in the slideshow below was made in the show at Minerva art Academy in Groningen (Nl), April 2016. The second one at the exhibition at Makerere University Art Gallery in Kampala (Ug), March 2016.

Back to the library… Two years have passed since we were all of a sudden granted permission to digitise part of the photo collection of the Africana section of Makerere University library. In those two years thousands of other photographs when through my hands, passed by on my screen. When selecting these particular photographs to post, I was struck again by their neat clean printing. By the white area around them that gives them breathing space. When I started to look more carefully I thought I saw two different images among a set of about eight. Both of them looking down on the library catalogue. I edited the two prints and posted them. It is only now, forced to look at them again by the number of people Facebook presented them to, that I become aware that these two are also just different crops of the same negative.

Looking at photographs of photographs on a screen is tricky business when it comes to the sense of size and materiality that is transferred. Sometimes rulers or matchboxes are photographed alongside with the image objects, to give our brain a clue of these features. After realising that the two images I uploaded to Facebook were two print versions of one ‘original’, I decided to look up the referent we made to remind us of what it was we documented. In this case these are overview pages of the albums the photographs were at some point put into by Makerere University library staff. The albums do not only restore the scale of the images, but occasionally added captions also tell us what the person compiling the albums thought that we should be seeing on the photographs; ‘students at the catalog.’

The Facebook share provided the name of one of the previously anonymous students, and confirmed the estimated time from which the shot dates: ‘The gentleman in white and grey trousers is the late Waiswa David Kyerimba (former inspector of schools) and a renowned author of several books. He was a CRE and Divinity Teacher at Kiira college Butiiki and a senior examiner. A hold of a PhD in Economics. Passed on in 2000 May. And resting in Buwaiswa Kamuli. He was in Makerere University in 1986.’

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