The global award in photography and sustainability

Robin Rhode

Principle of Hope

“A part of something is for the foreseeable future going to be better than all of it. Fragments over wholes. Restless nomadic activity over the settlements of held territory. Criticism over resignation … limited independence over the status of clients. Attention, alertness, focus. To do as others do, but somehow stand apart. To tell a story in pieces, as it is.”

Edward W. Said ‘After the Last Sky’ 1986

Using the street corner as my studio, the photographic work titled Principle of Hope is photographed against a ruined wall in a township in Johannesburg. This dilapidated wall is situated in a disadvantaged community that remains a footprint of the segregated Apartheid era. Today, communities in this area are plagued by high levels of gangsterism, violence, poverty, drug abuse, unemployment, and with HIV AIDS on an upward rise to due to poor facilities and lack of education. The youths of this area are grappling with identity issues and a lack of self-worth, even after 20 years in a newly democratic Post-Apartheid South Africa. These disenfranchised youths from the streets of Johannesburg have undergone a transformation to become my studio assistants and collaborators in this unique art-making process. The walls are painted in brightly coloured palettes to trigger psychological perception and to embrace mathematics and geometry as an educative tool to assist in developing reason and logic in the minds of young people. These geometric wall paintings and performances function as a form of photographic reportage, capturing creative gestures on a singular wall surface, but they also function as a form of rehabilitation by empowering youths by reclaiming urban space and embracing creativity as a productive outlet.

My photographic works evoke a sentiment shared by the great Palestinian humanist, Edward Said, ‘To tell a story in pieces, as it is.’ In my body of photography, however, I attempt to present an even greater challenge – the mystic search for wholeness in the very midst of its impossibility. My photographic technique is similar to stop-frame animation. I attempt to capture each moment of the painting process, each choreographic action of the performers, frame by frame, a form of cinematic construct infused with political narrative.

In the photographic artwork titled Principle of Hope, the glimmer of an answer resides in geometry – the necessary illusion of perfectibility. Here a spiral wall is rendered in painted grey tones to create the visual impression of heavy stacked concrete bricks. The painted concrete spiral evolves upwards towards a blue sky, a metaphor for an imaginary utopia. Moving between abstract speculation and visceral record, the artwork takes as a point of reference the philosopher Ernst Bloch’s book published in 3 volumes in the 1950’s titled ‘The Principle of Hope’ in which the author explores utopian impulses present in art, literature, religion and other forms of cultural expression, and envisages a future state of absolute perfection. More a wager in the present tense than an edifying work of art, my photographic work nominated for the Prix Pictet is a vital challenge to our current disaffection. It is a testimony, perhaps, that art can save us.