Often translated to “I am because we are” the term “ubuntu” relates to the humanity and the philosophical belief that a universal bond of sharing connects all of humanity; that you only really become human when you are connected to everything and everyone. In 2015, photographer Rebecca Fertinel was invited to a wedding by her friend Tracy Tansia, and it was here that she was first introduced the concept as it manifested among the warm, unabashed Congolese community in Belgium.
Rebecca was born in Romania but grew up in Belgium, finding an early interest in art. Although initially drawn to more fine art-based techniques, Rebecca was gifted an analogue camera by her grandfather which she used for photographing friends and her surroundings. “I grew up in a small rural village, where art was something that didn’t exist or was something abstract,” she tells us. “At university, I was more triggered by the medium of photography but it took me a year in graphic design before I knew what I wanted to do.”
Today, having gained a master’s in photography, Rebecca works on documentary projects while also interning at De Volkskrant. Throughout her work, she is drawn to the “specific ways in which people act, perceive, think or feel in varying life events,” capturing larger narratives through small gestures and subtle behaviours. “I never begin with a series in mind,” she explains. “My pictures become a project after rethinking and working out which way I want to go.”
As such, when introduced to the concept of ubuntu, Rebecca saw an opportunity to spontaneously explore themes which naturally occur in her portfolio. “I photograph from the heart,” she adds on her approach, “my projects develop at the same rhythm that I experience life; growing, learning and trying.” A series of black and white images, Ubuntu which was recently published as a book, harbours a sense of inclusion, a genuine response to the affection Rebecca experienced throughout, and towards, the group.
Taken at various events, from weddings to funerals, the images focus on the community’s joy. As is standard in her practice, Rebecca spent time getting to know those in photographs, making sure she could convey genuine relationships as they exist in real life. “I work mostly on long projects because I want to be a responsible photographer, to be interested in my subject, getting involved and learning from them,” she continues. In one image, four women dance and laugh behind a table spread with food, each sporting a vest with the birthday girl’s photo across the chest. In another, a young boy, suited up, rides his bike while glancing over his shoulder back to the camera, or three friends look on smiling as a young girl leaps into air. Whatever the situation, there is a togetherness present in each image, the series taking on the very embodiment of ubuntu: as a group they feel whole, separate they are lost.
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