Fululelo III, 2020
From the series "The Dance We Do"
Piezography carbon (carbon ink with pigments charcoal) print on Hahnemühle fine Art paper
310 g / m², 100% coton
40 x 30 cm
Edition 12 + 2 AP
Other sizes available by contacting us:
80 x 60 cm
Edition 10 + 1 AP
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100 x 75 cm
Edition 8 + 1 AP
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Fululelo III, 2020
In Paul Samuel’s work the portrait becomes a perspective through which to explore the interaction between the individual and the societal or subcultural. The elements of expression highlighted in his work – clothing, accessories, facial expression – give indications of personal adaptation or adherence to collective lived-ness and interpretation of spacio-temporal entanglements. “I am interested in the ways groups develop and constitute themselves; how they share a common identity that reflects their own set of values and sense of purpose. I look at the ways in which people present themselves through dress, gesture and attitude in the spaces and places they occupy, and how I can represent this in my photographs,” Samuels expresses. The potency of these explorations of identity performance and construction become apparent in the intimacy established in each shot, combined with relationship established between gaze of the person photographed and viewer in the act of observing and being observed. This is visible in Samuel’s recent series The Dance We Do.
This series, like with his other work, formed through exploration of and connection to space, place and people. After visiting a friend in Kagiso, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, he was introduced to introduced to a dancer, Fuluelo aka “Skeleton”; a nickname he received from his incredible ability to contort his body.
“I happened to be in the space with my camera and Fuluelo and his friends wanted to present their dance moves for the camera. After seeing the amazing things he could do, I knew I had found something beyond. He embodied that ‘thingness’ which I was searching for. The quiet man, with the desire to show the world who he is. And his performance of this was what gave the spark,” Samuels shares on the moment that inspired the series.
Through this unplanned, interpersonal encounter and an admiration for Fuluelo’s abilities, this series becomes an exploration of the body, and an extension of Samuels’ thematic concerns around identity formation and how we present ourselves. The uses of a cross, school shoes, the Alaska bucket hat play a larger role in the way in which Fuluelo paints a picture of his space within the world, and how he invites viewers into his spatial imaginary.
Therefore, the dance performed in the imagery operate as a glimpse into Fululelo’s world, solidified by his direct gaze. It also becomes a transitory, symbolic, almost universal moment, where we perform to the world to find our sense of belonging. The search to find comfort in ourselves and connection within a collective identity. These performances are interlinked with our identities and shaped by external forces found in all forms of media and cultural groups. “The act of posing for an image is a direct response to that, the pose and response to the camera is a projection of our own self belief of who we are, or who we hope to be,” Samuels shares.
The significance of Samuels’ compositional choices come to light when thinking this idea of dance, performance and desire for self formation. The plain plastered wall as the background and the unpaved sidewalk become supporting actors in the Fuluelo’s scenes. In parts of South Africa, particularly in townships, these spaces become the playgrounds of the youth, the spaces where people congregate and socialize. This space is a space that is used for the performative acts of the youth, and a place to find themselves.
The decision to share these images as black and white encourages the viewer to neutralise any viewing assumptions that colour imagery often carries. It allows images to exist simultaneously in their specificity of Skeleton’s world and temporal frame, as well as occupy a position in more than one moment and place. Here, again, the series oscillates between the individualistic and the potential for a kind of universality. Texture and the form of the body are pulled forward, presenting conceptual collisions that can sometimes be crowded out by full colour.
The intimacy that comes from the desire for a sense of belonging and the presentation of self through performance makes this series one that possesses a resonance across geographical limitations. It is another example of Samuels’ ability to fuse the micro, local, and the heartfelt with the macro, the global and the complex; forming visual narratives that describe the human condition.
Paul Samuels is a South African photographer whose work continues to excavate new possibilities for portraiture. His city, Johannesburg, is a key reference for his imagery. Here, encounters with a variety of people, places and spaces intertwine with his interest in relationship between the individual and the societal or subcultural.
His curiosity with photography began in his childhood, with credit given to his father's collection of encyclopedias called Life Library of Photography, and particularly Wynn Bullock's photograph Child in the Forest. Samuels completed his BA Fine Arts with distinction at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2012. During his studies, he worked as an intern at Glow Photographic, which expanded his technical and professional knowledge beyond the conceptual and critical thinking. In his final year he was awarded a Tierney Fellowship for the project XVI X, a body of portrait works of young men from the suburb of Edenvale, east of Johannesburg.
His work has been shared across the globe in solo shows and through inclusion in group shows and projects.
Samuels is influenced by his mentor Jo Ractliffe, and other South African greats including Guy Tillium, David Golblatt, Larry Clark, Pieter Hugo, Ross Garrett, Seyou Keita and Malick Sidibe.Read more
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