Ones to Watch Community 2022: Plantation, Ismail Zaïdy, Wei Zihan and Justin Aranha

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© Ismail Zaïdy.

Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 500 nominations. Collectively, these 15 talents provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we are sharing profiles of the 15 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct through thebjpshop.com

Each year, the British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch. Last year in 2021, BJP asked the talents to nominate one other photographer from their network, forming the Ones to Watch: Community. We are excited to present Ones to Watch: Community 2022 – a four-part series that explores an ecosystem of artists in community together. The third chapter features the work of Plantation, Ismail Zaïdy, Wei Zihan and Justin Aranha.

Plantation

Nominated by Cédrine Scheidig

 

Plantation is the moniker for Nigerian photographer and artist Ayomide Tejuoso, whose work seeks to interrogate and liberate the full complexity of Black life. Often employing her body as the primary medium, she makes personal work that confronts urgent and stigmatised topics like mental health and sexual violence. In this act of turning the inside out, she metabolises her own experiences while holding space for her community to speak up and share their own. “The act of creation brings me life and a deep sense of self,” she tells me. With her uncompromising and subversive style, Plantation has one mission: to start a revolution.

Informed by the visual interventions of Arthur Jafa, Tyler Mitchell, Kristin Lee Moolman and Rafael Pavarotti, Plantation’s practice is inspired by community and world-building as much as it is by the individual act of making photographs. Being part of a rich lineage of Black artistic production is what gives her life force and plays into her mission to recentre marginalised voices. “I think about how Deana [Lawson] coined such a distinct language,” Plantation says. “And kids like me are following her explorations – studying the Black body in the Black home. I think about how Carrie Mae Weems shaped Deana’s visual language. We are all exploring and moving in this cycle – a collective visual exploration. It’s repetitive but revolutionary, connecting all the dots.”

 Cédrine Scheidig, who nominated Plantation, adds: “She is part of a younger generation of artists who challenge the possibilities of what Blackness can be and signifies. She renews the imaginary around Black bodies, wrapping them in a universe and a deep internal battle, in a search for self that embraces the darkness of the world, far from all the clichés of violence projected onto the Black bodies.”

plantationofficial.com

I was born with blood on my teeth © Plantation.
Jesus is white and other confessions © Plantation.
© Plantation.

Ismail Zaïdy

Nominated by Maya-Ines Touam

 

In true Gen-Z style, the self-taught Moroccan photographer Ismail Zaidy’s camera of choice is his smartphone. With it, he creates minimalistic images informed by childhood memories and everyday life. As a natural introvert, image-making allows Zaidy to express his inner thoughts in a way that he finds impossible with words. “Photography is my sanctuary to express myself fully,” he tells me. “Through it, I’ve experienced things I would have never have imagined.” His lyrical yet abstract portfolio explores the broad terrain of gender equality, love and unity, subtly exposing and subverting power dynamics with the hope of redefining societal attitudes towards womanhood.

Zaïdy’s work is refreshingly calm. He employs colour blocking to create an almost meditative state, a strategy to quieten the viewer’s mind and set the tone for the emotive world he’s manifesting. “I love pastel colours, but since we can’t see it in our daily lives, I try to transfer my love for those colours into my photos,” says Zaïdy. “Each colour has a story, meaning and reason behind it.’

Photography has always been a family affair for Zaïdy. He began collaborating with his siblings early on, developing his ideas and testing concepts. In 2018 he started 3aila [family in English] to explore the ebb and flow of family life while simultaneously “shutting down the stereotypes associated with his country”. The poetic series uses graduations of colour, movement and materiality to create mystery and build tension. “I grew up in a modest area watching women and how they wear djellabas and other traditional clothes out on the streets,” says Zaïdy. “These women are still a huge inspiration for me”.

“This young photographer is very promising,” says Maya-Ines Touam, who nominated Zaïdy. “He plays brilliantly with space and colour. His work is extremely poetic, like a waking dream.”

 

@l4artiste

© Ismail Zaidy.
© Ismail Zaidy.

Wei Zihan 

Nominated by Wang Lu

 

“I was born in 1994 when the Chinese government was promoting the ‘one-child’ policy,” says Wei Zihan. “My parents were born in the 1960s under the control of collectivism. My father was the youngest of three brothers, and my mother was the youngest of five siblings and the only daughter among them. The influence of collectivism brought conventions and habits into their lives: ‘Don’t be different from others.’ During my upbringing, my parents and I faced a new kind of intimacy without any prior experience to refer to. We tried to understand each other and become friends. But unlike other immigrant families, I left, and they remained in their hometown.”

This tension between the personal and political, individual and collective, haunts Zihan’s work. Perplexed with the world she occupies, image-making provides a portal to grapple with unresolved issues and an escape route into unknown and fascinating worlds. In I did nothing other than to tell them to smile, she attempts to use picture-making to bridge the fraught gap between her parents and herself. She invited them to participate in a form of art therapy to create a space free from the pressures of everyday life in the hope of making peace and finding common ground.

“​​I originally hoped to reconcile our relationship and understand each other better through this project,” Zihan says. “However, a kind of intimate yet awkward relationship arose during the shooting process. I discovered that simply watching one another is the best therapy.”

Her images, which employ cut-outs and visual disturbances, speak to China’s rapidly developing social system and the cultural divide emerging between generations. “This work represents the huge theme of identity and belonging by creating a subtle sense of dissonance to explore the generational changes in daily life,” says Wang Lu, who nominated Zihan. ” It inspires people to be braver and face those contradictions.”

xibaow.com

© Wei Zihan.
© Wei Zihan.
© Wei Zihan.

Justin Aranha

Nominated by Oumayma B. Tanfous

 

There is something in the intimate, up-close and personal work of Toronto-based photographer Justin Aranha that speaks to a lineage of photographers past and present. Traces of Helmut Newton and Richard Avedon emerge through a tongue-in-cheek irreverence that contemplates the body in relationship to play and power. On the flip side, the quiet and intensive refection in his portraiture recalls the work of Dawoud Bey and Ethan James Green and invites the viewer to linger and tune into the micro perceptions garnered from each sitter.

Whether traversing the world of fashion, portraiture or his own personal practice, Aranha is fascinated by relationality and how we thrive in togetherness. His work treasures bodily autonomy and the fleeting moments of joy that accompany it. Rarely deviating from working in black-and-white, Aranha strips back embellishment to illuminate gesture and expression with disarming effect.

“My father was a photographer, and I’m sure that his way of seeing subconsciously informed mine,” Aranha says. “However, as I became older and more experienced, I look for warmth, humour and something [being a little] off. I know I like my picture if something about it makes me laugh. Every time I do a sitting or session, I discover more about what I yearn for from a picture. I’ve learned about my curiosity for taboo imagery, and finding a point of relation within that realm has been a fascinating and deeply reflective experience.”

Aranha’s portraits touch on themes like contemporary identity, style and sexuality, privileging a singular point of view that somehow defies time and space. “Justin also captures nudity in a fun and authentic manner,” says Oumayma B. Tanfous, who nominated Aranha. “The models are powerful and in control of their image, which I find quite rare in nude photography where the male gaze usually takes the entire space. In Justin’s work, it’s the entire opposite.”

justinaranha.com

© Justin Aranha.
© Justin Aranha.
© Justin Aranha.
Gem Fletcher

Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.