Shot in the bright, white light of the world’s largest desert, Jim Naughten’s portraits of the Herero tribe of Namibia look almost unreal. Dressed in ceremonial garb creatively re-appropriated from their colonial past, the men, women and children stand statuesque with distant stares. They could have been set up in an early 20th century photographer’s studio, with a propped-up backdrop and a Victorian fancy dress box to hand.
Naughten insists these beautiful photographs are not intended as documentary snapshots. The subjects have purposefully been positioned away from domestic settings, to concentrate solely on their commemorative costume. The history of Herero clothing is extraordinary. Rhenish missionaries first introduced Victorian dress, which the tribe gradually accessorised by adding, for example, cow horn headdresses. Later, during the 1904 war with Namibia’s German colonisers, Herero tribe members claimed the military uniform of dead German soldiers. A stunning series and a fascinating history lesson.
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