I dunno too much about photography, as a medium it has an arguably unparalleled impact on modern visual culture. As an art form it developed as an illuminating but also suspicious process of natural ‘accurate’ representation for the 19th century enlightened European. And as a scientific technique even more suspicious grumblings have been expressed.
I dunno too much about photography but I know about people, Jody Brand is somebody who also knows about people. She takes photographs of them and at times it seems like she takes photographs with them; her contribution to the frame always being an acute invisible third voice that is artistic intent or story or personal footnote.
So what is her intent? I meet her at the Kalashnikovv Gallery office in Braamfontien some time after her first show of photographic prints in Johannesburg, to talk. The exhibition offered a dualistic and perhaps too literal a look at her practice and the photography of Ross Garrett. The gallery space was halved, on the left wall hung Garrett’s large scale black and white portraits and on the right, a selection of Brand’s work taken from her blog CHOMMA which enjoys a cult following.
The work of these two artists, who are both interested in popular South African culture, exist in different spaces. Ross Garrett’s portraits were as much about formal tricks and considerations as they were about its subjects, which can result in a clean and trusted aesthetic appeal but can also risk outshining the narratives his portraits explored. Brand’s photography stood in stark contrast in its vibrant, full colour presence. In her work there was and is a strong emphasis on content-driven photography. Her compositions and photographic work in general are motivated by a need to “Own my culture and history visually,’’ she says, and the bulk of her photographic output is centred on her life and a variety of her ‘çhommas’ – friends, some of whom have become reoccurring muses.
Although the archival process is central to her work, I would argue that her eye for contemporary South African street culture is also celebratory. There is a candid quality to her street photography that allows her subjects to breathe, whether a fashion conscious Yeoville rapper type or a gold chain-adorned, ice-cream licking adult male at the Oriental Plaza, I enjoy her disaffected but personal approach as well as her irreverence for the medium itself; “I don’t really consider myself a photographer…”, she casually admits. Jody Brand subverts the function of the art of photographic object through her candid and sometimes playful compositions.
Her current preference for film is both indicative of what I interpret as an honest quest of self-discovery and cultural preservation (film here assuming its role as the grand triumphant medium of modernity) but also a commentary on its very immediate dispensability in contemporary society. In this sense, the photography of Jody Brand subtly democratises the way one looks at and, indeed, enjoys the art photograph.
Her inclination towards disposable cameras, loaded with its connotations of family holiday trips to the beach and other such domestic practices, reminds me of the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, a French intellectual who in the 60s discredited art photography as being substantially different in aesthetic and artistic value from the everyday photography of members of the public. He recognised a social root cause and argued that the art photograph presented a different sociological effect rather than any real aesthetic superiority in its formal elements, as in a bourgeoisie culture that reinforces class differences, I don’t think this kind of social commentary around the social significance of modern art necessarily compliments Brand’s, work but it becomes an interesting conversation that is expanded on when one looks at the role the internet has in her practice.
There is a clear consistent narrative and approach to her work when scrolling through her tumblr. It is her main exhibition space and outlet for her photography. I think Jody Brand is a photographer who realises the false hope of photography, and I think this has drawn her to a raw yet controlled and conscious aesthetic that seduces you in its familiarity but casually denies you the luxury of taking it too seriously, which really, is all I hope to experience from art.
Written by Bogosi Sekhukhuni for a now-defunct section of Platform called ‘Society’.