“The Studio Series was initially about the shared experiences of black migrants that I know in Australia, but has developed into an exploration of my blackness and my identity and culture through African cultural iconography, black visual languages, and diasporic traditions represented in the act of posing for a photograph.
The photos are traditional, staged studio photographs similar to those found in my family albums and the photo albums of many people in the diaspora – they’re bright, colourful and depict a very precarious moment in African history between traditionalism and cultural changes brought on by colonialism.
These images pay homage to black studio photographers in colonial and post-colonial Africa such as Malick Sidibe, Seydou Keita and Philip Kwame Apagya. I want to continue the tradition of studio photography as I’ve known it my whole life and create a tangible, visual representation of my relationship to my culture as a way of proclaiming and celebrating the connection I have to it.
This series is specifically about the ethnographic gaze of white photographs of black people; it’s about the importance of the moment when black people took the camera and took charge of the way we were depicted in photographs. It’s about the dehumanisation of the white gaze and the violence of a eurocentric history. Black photography in colonial Africa was more than subversive; it was reclamation, it was celebration, it was powerful, and it always will be.” – Atong Atem, 2016