You have been working with the theme of staged reality for over a decade, what was it about this method that initially appealed to you and do you still feel the same way about it now?
It's not really staged the reality I show, It's controlled. I started with this method because I wanted to focus on the scene on the street, but also on the public space in which this scenes take place. I had to take more distance, a wider look, to create a monumental image from the location. By doing so, I lost the control over the scene, that normally is taken in a 'decisive'-moment by intuition. I started combining images in the early nineties. It became my method to combine a focus on space with a focus on scene.
The Africa Junctions project started in 2008 and has spanned many years, when you started this project was there a narrative you expected to see? How has your perspective changed as the project has progressed?
I started Africa Junctions at first because I'd read about urbanization in Africa, around the continent. It was a shock for me to realize that that narrative was unknown to me so far. As if I had no image of the African city in my collective memory, besides an idea of Cape Town and the Lagos/Koolhaas documentary of Bregtje van der Haak I knew. Other documentaries addressed mainly the 'no-go'-ness of sprawl-areas and slums in cities around the continent and parts of Johannesburg. My question was is there a normal narrative about everyday life visible too? Could I go to a slum without judging that it was terrible to live there? Was it immoral to go there and make my ‘art’? Would I be robbed in 'Nairobbery', or by area-boys in Lagos? One thing I knew before hand: That would not be the narrative I would like to show, because that story has been told over and over again already. The narratives I found are numerous. I captured lots of them. During the project this continent surprised me a lot because in many ways it is much richer than I expected. Take for instance the mobile phone market that was such an unexpected booming market around Africa. There is no explanation how this could grow so fast, when we know that most countries lack a middle-class. In my book I don't show images that tell this story literally, but you often see people with more then one mobile phone.
Your work has given you insight into many African cities, what are your thoughts on what makes each place unique? Your work highlights informal structure as a common theme across African cities, how do you feel that your work has sought to highlight difference? How has your work challenged the notion in the west about Africa as continent?
I don't know what makes a place unique. It's a combination of lot's of things. History, culture, recourses, nature... I've never tried to prove that a city is different from another city. I think I look at overlapping themes. Differences then occur in so many details, that all over the differences are clear enough. I live in Amsterdam and I think it's very different from Utrecht, but it would be very hard to show you the real difference in images. Johannesburg is clearly very different from Cairo, or Lagos, but I think there's more that links them besides the fact that they be long to the same continent. The apartheid-system created cities that separated whites, blacks and colored in different areas. More and more this will be a link with cities in the western world. Informal structure is indeed a common theme in African cities. They exist because the right to space or economy is not defined, not like in European cities. I look at it as a fact, without judgement. I don't have an agenda for change. I don't look for solutions.
Following on our last question can you tell me which city you find to be the most visually striking? What do you find interesting about the contrast of cities, for example Lagos vs. Luanda or Lagos vs. Kinshasa?
Honestly I'm not looking for contrasts between cities and I do not emphasis them in my images. Lagos is buzzing. After a month in Lagos I get home exhausted. I'm not used to this buzz, to the constant sound of generators, the traffic-jams
on Third Mainland Bridge, the shouting of taxi-boys. I expected the same in Kinshasa, but Kinshasa is actually quiet green, surprisingly. It was less buzzing than Lagos, but on another level it was. It felt much poorer. The buzz of Kinshasa is about money, in Lagos of traffic. I don't think you will see this in my images. What you see is that I show more traffic related images in Lagos and more stree t-trade in Kinshasa.
Your images don’t feel as if they are strictly meant to be observed, rather they invite the viewer to interact with what they are seeing. The angle and style you use to create your images puts the viewer on the same plane as the subjects and in effect opens up the “stage” in which they are set. How do you see this at playin your work?
Precisely as you describe it! I think the narrative is in my images. As I edit in my images, the story can be found inside. In the whole series there's no lineair story. The book has three chapters, city of structures, city of stories, city of flux.