Born to a South African father and a half American, half German mother, photographer Kyle Weeks spent his childhood in Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek. Later studying photography at the Stellenbosch Academy, he says he became “acutely aware of the history of photography as a medium on the African continent.” Realising that what had once been a tool used for visual oppression was now a method of empowerment that allowed people to take control of their own identities, he decided that this was a dialogue he wanted to contribute to.
“For a long time, Africa and its people have been perceived as outsiders from the developed world, and photography has been implicit in shaping this perception,” Kyle tells It’s Nice That. “When photographs were still considered objective accounts of reality or truth, photographic bodies of work were readily accepted as the definitive synopses of entire cultures, and the image was given much more power than it actually has.” Though he does believe images are powerful in shaping ideas, Kyle thinks that today we, as modern consumers of photography, “are much more aware that images offer subjective half-truths, rather than a replica of reality as it plays out before the lens”.
In light of his realisation at university, he began focusing his photography on a subject that was close to his heart: African youth. The future of the continent, bringing with them new waves of positivity, they were the ideal subject matter through which to depict a different kind of Africa – an Africa full of wonder and hope and creativity. “Why would I want to focus on the hardship and difficulties? Why would I want to create imagery that further perpetuates Afro-pessimism?” asks Kyle. “Now more than ever there is a need for positive depictions of Africa and I like to believe I’m contributing towards that. Because that’s the Africa that I know, that I like to see. And while I’m not interested in creating images purely for the sake of being celebratory, I like to use this framework to guide me along and help me engage with people on the journey.”
With this in mind, Kyle took to the streets of South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and the DRC to create meaningful imagery of Africa’s next generation. Equipped with his analogue camera, he went on to produce a wide array of projects such as photo shoots in Congo with Belgian-born musicians, Petite Noir and Baloji; multiple fashion shoots, including one for for Vogue Italia featuring Cape Town-based clothing label Lukhanyo Mdingi; and two series on the Himba people of Namibia: one focusing on their tradition of palm wine harvesting – which won him a Magnum Photography Award – and the other focusing on their contemporary identity through encouraging them to take their own self-portraits
Currently basing himself out of London and Amsterdam, he has been pursuing more fashion-based commissions, which he says is “an interesting platform” through which to “express his voice as a photographer and feel energised by collaborating with people who share his vision and want to create the best work possible.” Most recently, this has taken him to Ghana for French publication Le Monde, where he shot a special on the theme of women in power with in-demand stylist (and i-D’s fashion editor-at-large), Ibrahim Kamara.
The interlinking theme throughout all of these projects, however, is Kyle’s investment in young people. By using his chosen discipline to create a new African narrative of pride and ambition, he is bolstering a movement that seeks to highlight the wealth of artistry and imagination it has to offer. It’s not ignorant of Africa’s hardship, it’s just trying to move forward with confidence and a promise of change. “I want to be a part of this silent revolution,” says Kyle. “I want to highlight the positivity and creativity coming from this continent.”
Still as enthusiastic as when he first started, Kyle is currently in his fourth year of a long term project in Ghana, focusing on emerging youth culture in the country’s capital of Accra. Looking at self-expression through style, against the vibrant backdrop of the city, Kyle says it’s one of his dream projects and hopes to release it in book form in the near future.
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