‘I who speak here am’

Publication date: 12 oct 2012

Farhana and Kholofelo (2012) is one of an ongoing series of domestic portrait photographs by Jared Thorne (b. 1982). Thorne is an American who has been living in South Africa since 2010. Upon his return to the United States, these pictures will function as remembrance of his personal encounters. So these portraits appear out of personal incentives. Remarkably, viewers of these photographs gain more than just a candid snapshot or a fleeting expression. Thus these pictures demand further investigation, and for several reasons. For one, the portraits result from a long and self-conscious process of collaboration with the sitters. For another, the portraits are made in ways that engage longstanding photographic conventions. Perhaps the third reason is most influential: the pictures are composed to provoke an investigative sort of viewing.

For each shoot, Thorne would discuss the composition of the image and then encourage the sitters to select the setting and their position within the frame. For the pictures of couples, he would ask them to group themselves together and look directly at the camera, thereby referring to the way people photograph themselves. The large format compositions are produced using a high-resolution film process, not by digital means. Thorne uses long exposure times to obtain focus and detail. This means that in order to avoid blurring, the sitters had to choose poses that they could maintain without moving. This matters visually because it results in portraits that appear very static, a convention of the 19th century. Black Folk is a group of pictures that engage traditions of photography as much as they do contemporary photographic practices. The result is pictures that activate past and present, viewer and image. These interactions have the potential to impact everyday social and cultural life—in South Africa and beyond.

Jared Thorne was raised in the northeastern United States. He completed secondary school in Boston, Massachusetts and went on to earn a BA degree at Dartmouth College. Thorne began making photographs seriously while working as a journalist at the news outlet CNN. He developed an interest in the potential of fine art photography and went on to complete a postgraduate diploma at the San Francisco Art Institute and a Masters in Fine Arts at Columbia University. Thorne now lectures in Stellenbosch Academy’s photography department. Prior to arriving in Cape Town, Thorne produced black and white photographs of the American urban environment that focused on issues of race, class and gender. Black Folk continues this focus in the context of Southern Africa.