Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa is a photographer, writer, and editor of The Great Leap Sideways. He was an artist-in-residence at Light Work in 2015, has contributed essays to catalogues and monographs by Vanessa Winship, George Georgiou, and Paul Graham, guest-edited the Aperture Photobook Review, and first joined the photography faculty at Purchase College in 2015 as a visiting assistant professor. He won the 2018 First Photobook award for One Wall a Web at the 2018 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards.
One Wall a Web traces a chronological path through the production of two series, the first of which (Our Present Invention) sets out with a particular interest in the entanglement of masculinity with violence. The second series of photographs (All My Gone Life) comprises two chapters, the first of which consists of appropriated archival images which track continuities between past and present circumstances. These revenant images enter into dialogue with the final strand of contemporary photographs in the second chapter, which address themselves to the spectral form and the visceral costs of this history in the book’s penultimate section. One Wall a Web concludes with an extensive essay that explores resonances between the field of black studies, questions of black life, and the strange ontology of the photographic image. Publisher’s Info
: You’ve remarked elsewhere that the landscape photograph became, for you, a way of getting at the pathological investment in violence that you understand to be central to American history. In Our Present Invention, you seem to have been drawn to the sort of anonymous sites that characterise the suburban fringes of so many North American cities. Your images infuse them with an incredible tension – their banality is always offset by the possibility that they might be, or may once have been, the site of unspeakable acts of violence. Was this how they felt to you? How did you encounter them as a photographer? What was it that attracted you to them?
Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa: I think I was working in places like those for quite a while before I knew why I was working in them. I don’t have a car or a driver’s license, so I navigated Virginia on my bicycle or on foot the majority of the time. This was a really important limitation for me, because it meant that the world passed by fairly slowly. What I learned very quickly is that the rigidity of the American urban grid forcefully pushes improvisational or unincorporated spaces to the margins, that it creates a kind of incessant homogeneity that quickly stifles, that it makes the corner a place to congregate and also the site of surveillance, that it organises lived space in these deadeningly predictable patterns.
I would cycle around Richmond and notice how monochromatic the city was. I would notice the racialisation of land bordering highways and expressways, where air quality is poorest, just as the prime waterfront property in the city is also utterly segregated and classed. The spatial arrangement of the American city is itself an ongoing act of violence, it’s one that repeats like a kind of infrastructure, and thus re-iterates and entrenches racial and economic hierarchies by constraining movement across certain thresholds, and by criminalising transgression or making it materially impossible to achieve. I felt this as an inhabitant of the city, and I experienced it as a black man moving across invisible structuring lines while making the work.
I am really gratified to hear that you think the scenes themselves are infused with a certain tension, or with the intimation that they might have been or might someday be the sites of violence. In the end, Our Present Invention as a series only works if the representation of the landscape can build the distinctive outlines of a world in which we might understand life to occur, and the trouble with the term violence is that it’s too easily reduced to individuated acts and instances of conflict, whereas what I’m much more keenly interested in and terrified by is the miasmic force of white power structuring the parameters of social (inter)action and physical space. In some fundamental way I believe that that process I’m just now talking about is non-figurative and unfigurable. One Wall a Web: An Interview with Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa by Eugenie Shinkle (americansuburbx)
Artist: Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa | Year: 2018 | Design: Roger Willems | Number of pages: 248 | Size: 17.1 x 24.6 cm.