In 2009, responding to the way that African cities were an gap in his consciousness, Dutch photographer Lard Buurman began a journey through thirteen of them. The first images that emerge from his project are initially familiar, in that they show the African city as a stage. This setting captures the thin layering of urbanism onto rural spaces, as the city developed in stages from a colonial to a more garish post-colonial period, while the rural reemerges in foodstuffs and animals, clothing and earth. In this respect the work recalls many colonial and post-colonial images that show the makeup of an African everyday.
Lard has photographed Johannesburg, Luanda, Lagos, Kampala, Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Lagos, Dakar and Kinshasa. Casablanca, Cape Town and Cairo will be the last stops. In each case, he sets up the camera in everyday public spaces in the course of the everyday. Yet there is an edge to the images. Although the setting is familiar, there is something strangely dense about the activities that take place in them. This uncanny effect lies in the technique that Lard has evolved as his signature over his career, and tested through an earlier project in Chinese cities.
His technique involves a painstaking re-choreographing of the scene captured on film. He explains: "Thanks to my working method, I am able to combine an architectonic approach with a documentary approach. The considered, static image which represents space is combined with a dynamic shot of the scene. This is accomplished by reconstructing the image time and time again from dozens of different instantaneous exposures from the same perspective."
His capacity to linger on the details of their images breaks through the instinctive reactions that many Western viewers have to photographs of Africa. Watching and poring over the images seem to bring him close to the actors. In the place of sentiment or horror, his reaction is to pull out moments and to suggest stories. In the process of editing, as he writes, he manages to "bring order to the chaos of the street, without actually solving the chaos. I look for the frontier where coincidence disappears and staging becomes dominant. I neither stage nor style during shooting and I show people there where they were. By playing with time and simultaneity, I can direct afterwards. The photographic moment and social codes between people are reoccurring themes in my work. I play with facts without losing sight of reality."
The story and reality that emerges in the images is very much one of movement. The unobtrusive way of placing himself seems to allow for flows of people across the frames. In this way he captures a significant social and economic aspect of African cities, illustrating the characteristics of African cities as places of constant flux and openness, as well as evoking the flows of people to and from Africa in European cities.
More than 12 million Africans are politically displaced. More than half are under twenty-five. By watching a city in motion, these images capture urban and transnational migration, as well as the youthful makeup of a population that often, given that formal employment much more rare than its alternatives, spends its time walking the city in search of opportunity. The consequence is a public space that acts as a landing stage, an interregnum. The filling up of the space through Buurman's documentary method therefore creates a more poignant reality, in which people, instead of rushing through the public realm, are paused in it to play out their lot for us to consider. The image as consequence has a sort of predictive role, one in which Africa and its mobile people come with us as a subject and question.
The work will be presented as an exhibition and book in 2013. Lard Buurman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org