Review of the photography exhibition Ways We Watch Films in Africa, presented by the Africa in Motion Festival, at the Old Hairdressers (Glasgow) and the Filmhouse Café (Edinburgh). Fri 23 Oct – Sun 1 Nov 2015.
by Kahina Le Louvier
Do you remember this scene in Amelie, when she is in a cinema and whisper « I like to turn around in the dark to see the faces of the people around »? Have you ever done it yourself? Now imagine that instead of merely seeing people’s faces, you would also have a view on the starry night, on the desert of Sinai, or on zebus wandering around.
From the 23th October to the 1st November, the Africa in Motion Festival chose to decolonise the spectators’ experience of cinema more deeply by offering them to turn their back to the screen for a few minutes and enjoy the various Ways We Watch Films in Africa. This photography exhibition was the result of a call for professional and amateur photographs capturing different places and manner of enjoying cinema across the African continent.
The selected pictures reflect this multiplicity: from the small storage room of a peanut seller in Kenya to a cosy hipster rooftop screening in Johannesburg, including the small house of a Ghanaian woman watching a film on her laptop screen while the children are sleeping, each image shows how one’s relationship to cinema is both strongly context-dependent and deeply intimate. This exhibition demonstrates that passion for cinema is not universal but pluriversal. There is not only one way to watch films, and cinemas are not just big shopping centre rooms filled with comfy red seats. Yet, be it in a busy capital city or in the middle of the desert, the look of people starring at the screen reveals a similar eagerness for taking a filmic journey everywhere in the world.
The most stunning pictures in term of aesthetics were taken during the FiSahara Film Festival, which brings screenings and workshops to refugees living in camps of the Western Sahara every year. The winning image is particularly powerful. The lens is placed on the ground like a discrete observer that would turn around and see the faces of the fascinated children. The long exposure time allows capturing all the light that emanates from the night: the astonishing starry sky, the audience, that the light coming from the screen makes as bright as a full moon, and what seems to be another screen in the background, shining as a celestial apparition.
Light bounces infinitely between the spectators in the photograph and the spectators of the photograph. The latter, located at the point of view of the invisible screen, stop the light of the projector and reflect it back to illuminate the figures that previously enlightened them. In order to capture this light, the lens also has to capture time. Time appears as light in motion, blurring the children’s silhouettes to eternalise the ephemerality of their movement. This photograph thus seems to pay tribute to what is the essence of cinema: the relationship between observed and observers, and the entanglement of light and time.
Exhibited in the Filmhouse Café, it was difficult to get close to the pictures without disturbing the customers. This is unfortunate, for this wonderful exhibition would have deserved a proper venue. Fortunately, some of the shots can be fond online, for you to experience at your time and in your way.
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