CSUSM The Black Photo Album by Mofokeng Discussion
PAPER #1 : Portraiture as (Counter) Hegemonic Image
Paper #1 asks that you take up the debate that Santu Mofokeng tackles in his project “The Black
Photo Album” and argue for the way in which the types of studio portraiture we saw in this
week’s lesson either:
a. Reproduce a colonial mentality – which equates social status/worth and humanity on
adherence to European/Western norms/hierarchies (around culture, class, gender, etc.);
b. Challenge the colonial order and its legacies – by breaking with the patterns of dehumanizing (stereo)“type” based representations.
In other words, I would like for you to choose ONE of the three series we considered this week
– the “Black Photo Album” by Mofokeng series or studio portraits produced by either Sanlé Sory
or Malick Sidibé – and argue whether you feel the series constitutes an example of hegemonic
or counter-hegemonic images. Do these images empower the subjects who are being
photographed, or do they replicate hierarchies of power that facilitate the subordination of
I would like for you to build your case based on a close analysis and “listening” of ONE image
from the series you choose – in accordance with Tina Campt’s method of “haptic”/embodied analysis
What you “hear” after “listening” to one image, will serve as the core of your argument, and
demonstrate your case for how you see the series functions as a whole. As part of this, you
should situate the image(s) within a historical context by drawing on readings/sources (short-
listed below). And, you can also cite other images that we’ve looked at in the class for support.
Lastly, you should address how this example helps clarify your understanding of the concepts of
hegemonic/counter-hegemonic images. And more broadly, what they teach you about the role
of photography in constructing identity and serving as a tool for empowerment.
Context: Introduces the artist or photographer and the context in which they were working.
Describes how this image fits into a larger series/form/genre of images.
Discusses the history of colonial photography in broad terms – establishing a benchmark
for what constitutes a hegemonic image, and what norms/ideas a counter-hegemonic
image challenges/critiques/breaks-away from. Discusses the above by using examples of images and/or quotations from the case studies/readings we’ve considered in the class and other related sources.
Close-Reading/Analysis: Describes the image and its different visual elements. Elaborates on how/why this image resonates with the author – and what they hear from the image. Alludes to specific elements of the image that speak of empowerment/resistance/affirmation, or the replication of oppressive power structures.
Argument: Builds on what they “hear” to make a case for this image as an example of either hegemonic or counter-hegemonic image. Discusses this in relation to images/readings cited for context.
Reflection: Discusses how this image/case study helps clarify the role/function of photography, an
the ways it can serve as a tool for empowerment.
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