BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY
"Hereros – Jim Naughten"
London-based photographer Jim Naughten first came across the Herero tribe and their eclectic sense of fashion several years ago while travellingin southern Africa. The images he captured on that trip were published in Marie Claire, which funded an exhibition that in turn landed him a major global advertising campaign. Yet Naughten knew he needed to return to Namibia to continue photographing. “I always had it in the back of my mind to go back and revisit the project with newfound skills in lighting and postproduction,” he says. “I went back in the summer of 2011 for four months, working more or less every day, camping and driving for many thousands of miles, from village to village, attending weddings and funerals.”
What interested him about the Herero tribe was their unique, paradoxical history. When Namibia was colonised by Germany in the early 20th century, missionaries began converting the indigenous people and encouraged them to wear european dress. When war broke out between the tribesmen and the imperialists in 1904, during which more than half of the Herero people were killed, it was their custom to take the uniform of a slain German soldier and wear it as a symbol of their successful battle. The tradition of wearing this clothing continues, with the Hereros still donning uniforms and Victorian dress, embellishing it with, for example, a cow horn headdress to honour their ancestors. “What I hope comes across in the images is the resilience and defiance of the Herero people. It’s not a widely known story,” says Naughten.
In his portraits of the Hereros, their dresses, suits and military uniforms are set against the backdrop of the sun-bleached landscape of the Namibian desert. Also included in the series are images of groups of similarly clad people, incongruously marching and parading through the desert. While their poses seem highly constructed, Naughten maintains that the Herero tribe are not used to being photographed. “They look stunning; in a way, all I had to do was point the camera and take some pictures,” says Naughten. “I had a Herero guide who would translate. We would discuss the clothing and then ask them to face the camera.”
His last major personal work, Re-enactors, was also concerned with the connection between history, people and costume, focusing on people who take part in historical re-enactments from the first and second world wars, concentrating on the performance aspect. “What really interests me is history and trying to make a connection with it,” says Naughten. “I read a great deal of history books and I suppose I’m trying to make my own version with a camera. With Hereros (as with Re-enactors), the clothes and uniforms are the story.” BJP