From Being Gay in Uganda, by Tadej Žnidarčič. Via Daylight Magazine.
Before you read our post, I recommend reading the interview at Daylight — it is informative, insightful, and direct. Discussions of work like this often get bogged down either in heavy theory or in a whole-hearted devotion to the documentary value that takes the nature of the photographs and the choices that shaped them as a given; neither is the case here.
In Being Gay in Uganda, Žnidarčič photographs gays and lesbians in Uganda. All of the photographs are posed in the same way, with the subjects facing away from the camera and toward walls, visible from around mid-thigh or knee up.
The photographer explains the choice of posing:
All the people I talked to wanted to remain anonymous so I portrayed them without compromising their safety. I didn’t want to ‘reduce’ them to only their feet, hands or clothing, or hide their faces in one way or another. In this case, I think showing only their hands or clothing wouldn’t say much about them and the situation they face every day. Since we see the ‘complete’ person, but the person is not facing us, the question arises: why can’t they show their face? Why can’t they face us? That’s what I would like people to think about when they see these images.
Another element is that they stand in front of ugly, crumbling walls. These walls symbolize the obstacles they face and their exclusion from society. That, and since the bill proposes the death penalty for homosexuals, a wall is something people get executed in front of. As a series, the portraits work as a group—unified by exact framing—in which each person is an individual, with his or her own posture, clothing, and accessories.
It is an interesting set of choices, addressing the strictly practical need to preserve subjects’ safety, the portraitist’s need to depict whole persons, rather than just parts that elude to a person, and also a symbolic function that the casual viewer might miss: the background as place of execution. (I confess, I did not initially make this connection when viewing the images.)
There are other consequences for these choices, which may or may not also be intended. The posing and framing are profoundly isolating, for example; the subject is cut off from the viewer by the pose and from the context by the framing. This is consistent with what the photographer is trying to communicate about the place of the homosexual in Uganda, but it does not hint at personal bonds, social networks, and organizations within the gay community (which exist and are referenced repeatedly in the interview); each subject stands alone.
I think this approach encourages a more typological and less personal viewing. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but I wonder if the choice to represent one person against each wall, rather than two or several, was conscious and what governed it.