Face to Face: Rethinking the role of reportage

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Centering on the importance of community and collaboration, a new public exhibition curated by Ekow Eshun presents work by eight contemporary photographers working at the intersection of documentary, art and activism

“There’s a long ignoble history of Western photography that objectifies and exploits the image of people in Africa, India and other developing world locations,” says Ekow Eshun, the curator of a new exhibition in Kings Cross, London, which presents the work of eight contemporary photographers working at the intersection of documentary and activism. Centering on the importance of community and collaboration, Face to Face is delivered in partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR), a charity that provides financial and strategic support for grassroots leaders and activists. The exhibition gathers social documentary and portrait photography from regions where the FGHR is active — Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia — presenting images that celebrate the agency and energy of people and causes on the ground.

The artists on show, including Mahtab Hussain, Dhruv Malhotra, and Sabelo Mlangeni, were selected for their nuanced depictions of their subjects within reportage, and for placing human experiences at the centre of the story. “One of the ways to surmount that situation is for photographers to develop long term relationships with their subjects, enabling them to create imagery based on connection, empathy and mutual respect.”

Kyle Weeks, for example, handed his shutter release to the young men of the Himba people in northern Namibia, shifting the intrinsic power dynamic of portraiture into the hands of the subjects themselves. Similarly, George Osodi produced his project over four years, a documentation of the long-term effects of oil mining on the lives and lands of the Niger Delta. The show also includes work by Alejandro Cartagena, Margaret Courtney-Clarke, and Medina Dugger, which will run alongside an online programme featuring live interviews with artists, writers, and activists, exploring how to effectively campaign for change.

The exhibition will be displayed outdoors at King’s Cross station, as well as in the Kings Cross Tunnel, a 90-metre-long space that was completed earlier this year, until 01 November. “I was conscious of selecting work that could hold its own in public, both aesthetically and in terms of subject matter,” he says. “The hope is that people passing through the tunnel will slow down to engage with the images. That they’re drawn in first perhaps by their scale or their vibrancy. And that they’re drawn into an engagement with the stories and subjects being explored by the photographers, and by the compelling nature of the portraiture itself, which brings them face to face with individuals and communities from across the world.“

Face to Face will be on show until 01 November in the King’s Cross Tunnel, Monday–Sunday, 7am until 8pm. Photographs from the exhibition are also presented around 15 benches across King’s Cross station.

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.