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Images of Africa: A Review of ‘A Stranger’s Pose’ by Emmanuel Iduma

A Stranger’s Pose by Emmanuel Iduma mixes together lyrical musings and poetic meditations with photography to document the author’s travels across numerous African cities.

In a hazy, dreamlike style, this piece drifts along the consciousness like a duck upon water, occasionally dipping in and out of different moments of significance, including the arrest of a man in a market in N’djamena, and Iduma’s theft of a book from a beautiful woman in Khartoum. Iduma offers us a glimpse into vagrant life, describing the feelings of homesickness and loneliness that inevitably accompany him along the road, but also demonstrating the stimulating possibilities and unpredictability of this lifestyle, as well as the heartwarming openness of strangers.

Photo by: @vitalwritersblog

Many instances are captured by a single snapshot. Other times, Iduma omits any physical photographs, and instead encapsulates the scene using words, describing the absent images and hence constructing a type of photographic language. The blunt style through which these scenes are relayed mimics the mechanic objectivity of the camera lens; Iduma simply zooms in and out, focusing on different occurrences without providing much judgement or commentary. This helps to avoid the pretentious or patronising tone that often encompasses writings about Africa. Instead, Iduma, and, indirectly, the reader, are simply positioned as curious onlookers.

By relying primarily on a photographic medium, Iduma imagines a new unique form of storytelling. He seems to use photography because of its air of mystery; its perplexing ability to both conceal and reveal. For instance, he writes: ‘Photography is a charismatic medium. Sometimes it takes five decades for a photograph to unravel itself’.

On the photographing of strangers, Iduma proclaims:

‘At the moment of posing, they make themselves into the people they want to be. […] they can represent themselves as they see fit. And in being photographed, in the creation of a document of their pose, they affirm their place in the city. Left with photographs I had no need for, except perhaps to serve as a reminder of their confidence, they indicate how, were I less restless, I might claim a place.’

If photography is intimately tied to space and belonging, then this creates a paradoxical and potentially erosive relationship between the camera and the vagabond. This makes it a fascinating and ironic choice of storytelling for a piece of travel writing. Further, the treatment of the photograph as a document is also interesting when considering the entire narrative, as many of the strangers Iduma encounters face problems with visas and immigration.

With its focus on the significance of image, Iduma’s work acts as an implicit critique of the treatment of Africa in media. If we are too often bombarded with images of poverty, starvation, war and destitution, then Iduma works to paint a refreshing image of mundanity by capturing the ordinary life for working class members of African society through his various interactions and experiences.

Emmanuel Iduma will be speaking about his work at a panel for the 2019 Africa Writes literature festival on Saturday the 6th of July. Tickets are available: here.

Africa Writes 2019 programme brochure

Africa Writes 2019 programme brochure


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