Kyle Weeks is fascinated by the relationship between photographer and sitter. His work seeks to unpick stereotypes and broaden the discussion of African identity. Growing up in Namibia and South Africa, he became familiar with the power of representation. “Both countries have been forced to live in the shadow of their turbulent histories through the continuous depiction of hardship and strife in the media.” He explains, “My interests are rooted in the politics of identity, and the ability images have to shape and preserve it.” For Weeks, photography is a vehicle for empowerment and self-expression, an opportunity to reset and reframe the portrayal of young African men.
After studying photography in Stellenbosch, Weeks co-founded the professional crew agency Cape Collective Assist. From here, he built the foundations of his professional practice, gaining valuable insight into all aspects of the business working with an international roster of photographers.
Weeks went on to pursue a career in the art world, making a name for himself with the series ‘Ovahimba Self-Portraits’. The Himba people are a well-documented tribe based in the Kunene region of northern Namibia. Often exoticised by the west for there indigenous traditions, Weeks shifted the power dynamic allowing each of the young men he photographed to control the shutter. “The rift between the representation and realities of these people are profoundly apparent. In handing over the power we get to see these young men, as they want to be seen: traditional, contemporary and proud of who they are.”
The resulting images are a powerful exploration of young men relishing their unique identity, hovering between tradition and modernity. Their style, a collision of sculptural braids and puma jackets, perfectly illustrates an identity in flux. Equally honouring tradition, while consuming inspiration from the west. These intimate portraits also speak to a spectrum of modern masculinity, a theme that is now central to Weeks’ practise.
‘Palm wine collectors’ is a study of men and their connection to the land. In each portrait we see them defying gravity in the heights of the Makalani palms, towering a hundred feet in the air. They sit comfortably, almost effortless as they harvest the precious sap from the trees. The photographs play with the magnitude of scale, the presence of the palms is nearly impossible to imagine.
Namibia’s culture maybe modernising but the country still has roots in its ancient traditions. The Himba people have passed down the knowledge and technique of creating palm wine for generations. Although the practice has been illegal for years, they vehemently believe it is their right to continue the tradition.
“For me, my artwork is about shifting the perceptions of the viewer, celebrating the agency and creativity of youth culture in Africa.”