“Southern Suburbs made me more aware of how complex
contemporary South Africa can be, and this became
something I have wanted to explore more and more.”
— Alice Mann
South African artist Alice Mann uses photography to study the society and culture in which she was raised. Her work concerns the politics of representation in post-apartheid South Africa, especially racial discrimination and stereotyping. A recent college graduate from Michaelis School of Fine Art, Mann currently resides between London and Cape Town.
A South African photographer, Pieter Hugo works in portraiture of marginalized or unusual groups in Africa. Using a formal documentary style or studio setting, Hugo follows performers, boy scouts, debt collectors with hyenas and baboons, honey gatherers, taxi washers, people with albinism, the elderly and more.
A photographer whose work explores human myth, ritual and tradition, Charles Freger travels the world capturing societies and their customs. Freger consistently photographs people across cultures in uniform, and his 2012 work searched Europe for the mythological ‘Wild Man’ figure.
An acclaimed Dutch photographer who lives and works in Amsterdam, Rineke Dijkstra makes portraits of individuals who belong to groups, including adolescents, clubbers and soldiers. Dijkstra is noted for her compositional style: her subjects are often shown standing, facing the camera, against a minimal background.
Alice Mann cites her childhood in post-apartheid South Africa as a catalyst for her photographic work, which focuses on racial stereotyping and “othering” in contemporary society and the complex politics of representation involved. Mann’s Southern Suburbs is a series of stark portraits juxtaposing the upper-middle-class inhabitants of Cape Town’s suburbs (what Mann calls “South Africa’s white elite”) and the people who work for them. The portraits are taken at the homes in which the subjects either live or work—including a self-portrait of Mann in her own home—emphasizing the economic rift between owners and employees. Straightforward and formal, these images highlight the tension of uneven social dynamics and a shared undertone of alienation and isolation. Mann currently splits her time between London and Cape Town, and continues to explore the social and racial complexities of South Africa through her work.
Where are you from?
I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, which is where I grew up and attended university. When I graduated, I moved to London and have been based between both places since.
When did you start making art?
I always needed a creative outlet and enjoy being busy with something. I’m happiest when I have a project in progress. This has been the case as far back as I can remember.
Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?
I was very lucky that I was able to meet and work with some very prolific South African photographers while still studying and interning. I am constantly inspired by the work coming out of South Africa and the way different artists engage with the country and its history. I think the work of Pieter Hugo, Charles Freger and Rineke Dijkstra has been influential on me and my photography in some way.
How would you describe your style?
I like to work on series and am very inspired by people. I try create images that are visually interesting and beautiful, but it is important that my work addresses something. I feel my portraits are quite formal.
How and when did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
In my third year at university I started to take it more seriously and look at it as a possible career option—I think it was 2013. I studied a BA in fine art with a major in photography. Up to that point, my heart was set on being an art director. I went to an internship at a big advertising firm where it clicked for me that I wanted to be more involved in making things.
“I try to create images that are visually
interesting and beautiful, but it is important
that my work addresses something.”
— Alice Mann
What’s your story of getting started as an artist?
After I graduated, I knew I wanted to travel. I’d been saving for ages and was lucky enough that I qualified for an ancestral visa for the UK. There was an internship I wanted in London, so it seemed that was the best decision. I stayed on in London afterwards, making contact with different people and learning as much as I could. I missed South Africa, but I absorbed so much while I was away. I wouldn’t have done things differently. I’ve been making projects in my own time since finishing university. It can be a frustrating process, but very gratifying. It’s only recently I felt confident enough to put my personal work out more seriously, and it’s exciting to feel that people are interested in what I’m doing.
How does it feel to have accomplished this body of work? What was the process like?
I created Southern Suburbs during my fourth and final year at art school for our graduate show. Looking back, it has definitely informed the way that I now work, and Domestic Bliss also derived from that body of work. It made me more aware of how complex contemporary South Africa can be, and this became something I have wanted to explore more and more.
What’s your favorite book, film and music right now?
I’ve been reading 33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton, which I am really enjoying. I also avidly read any bad crime novel I come across (I’m very into Jo Nesbo). Bombay Beach by Alma Har’el is an amazingly beautiful film. I would recommend anyone to go and see it. In terms of music, I don’t have any particular artists or genre I’m really into. It just depends on my mood. I like Sun Rai and Felix Laband a lot at the moment.
What are your interests and passions outside of your art?
I love being outside. Being able to go for a walk or run in the mountains in Cape Town is the best. A lot of my friends live in different places around the world, and we love visiting each other and exploring new places together. I find traveling and experiencing new cultures very inspiring.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been in Cape Town for the last few months, working on a number of new bodies of work which I’m excited about. South Africa is the most interesting and inspiring place to be able to work from. Hopefully I’ll be able to release some of it in the next few months.