by Christie van Zyl
Faces and Phases. What should have been a follow up became a retake.
Never did I think a portrait could give me so much trouble. This afternoon Zanele Muholi asked to take a portrait shot of me for Faces and Phases, after the negatives for the first shoot we did went missing.
We had first engaged my portrait in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town in 2012. Unfortunately between moving from Cape Town to Johannesburg the negatives of those images were misplaced. Between Muholi asking for ‘five different characters, interrogation and the space between arrogance and innocence’. I knew that Muholi was right every time she said ‘awukho egiyeni’ – Christie, you are not in your mode ‘.
Muholi came over to my apartment and pointed out the exact spot she wants to try shoot my portrait around my building, unfortunately that space required a permit. We decided to simply use the exposed walls on the side of the building where we would not have much trouble with access.
We moved along the wall of the building while I looked for the tigress in me and Muholi searched for me in my element. She kept sensing that I was not relaxed and reminded me to just breath in and out ,to stand in a relaxed pose and not be so robotic. Zanele directed my poses clearly to boast my facial features. I struggled a lot when she would throw me in the deep end and asked me for five different characters, which became confusing after she had first asked me for an interrogating look then told me that she is looking for that space between arrogance and innocence.
‘Ngifuna leyanto eshoyo nje ukuthi umuhle kodwa nawe awuzazi ukuthi uzenzeni’ yabo – Zanele Muholi
[‘I am looking for that thing that shows your beauty, that leaves even you not knowing how you achieved it, you see’] – Zanele Muholi
An agenda about beauty struck me at some point when I was no longer sure what I was communicating with my photographer, with the camera, with my friend who is looking for my personal footprint on my face.
Between shots Zanele was styling my hair ,adding and removing items from my wardrobe and making sure her bags were safe. It made me think of a time when I heard Muholi speak about the safety of actually embarking on the pursuit of these portraits.
‘Can somebody just write about the dangers of taking these photographs. The fact we have to fear for our lives while we try to archive history’ – Zanele Muholi
Lerato Dumse was standing on the side lines taking behind the scenes images of our shoot whilst uploading them on twitter to the @facesandphases account. It was a strained space with all of us being tired and drained from working back to back.
We eventually concluded our shoot with wilted energy and a very clear indication that we can never find that moment from three years ago, ever again. We left that moment ekasi and I suppose the spirit of that image will live forever, commemorative in a space where Muholi has made the greatest of impacts Ekasi!!!
2015 April 13: Ode to the Young Black Lesbian