‘Trans Atlantic’: An Interpretive Photography Series on Slavery and Color

‘Trans Atlantic’: An Interpretive Photography Series on Slavery and Color

When the idea for “Trans Atlantic” came up between me, Isma, and the crew from Pekat Photography, we quickly fell in love with the concept and decided to make it a joint effort. Since slavery is a sensitive topic, we decided to do our best to approach the topic from a more academic and historical reference point. We hoped our joint effort would offer a new, fresh narrative told in a three-part series that would be presented without bias, social commentary, or cultural or historical analysis.

We recognize that with the topics of slavery and color, people tend to have strong pre-formed opinions. Thus, we chose to approach this project from an artistic point of view without trying to be overly intellectual or offer solutions to problems. We wanted to mash together history and the present and create a set of images that caused the viewer to stop and think. We wanted these images to give a sense of mood and feeling to the viewer, to think "that girl in the middle could easily be me” or ask “why are they wearing tweed suits?” 

The teamwork on this project developed somewhat like a perfect marriage, each of us contributing our different skills to the shoot. We were able to incorporate great styling, sets, and ultimately verbiage into our project seamlessly, something that does not happen often in our area. Here in Kenya, it's difficult to find a group of creatives who are talented in multiple areas and also find common ground in the course they wish to take on a project like this. Because of this unique team, we have been able to push ourselves with this project and produce a set of images that goes beyond our normal comfort zones and hopefully inspires others.

It's easy as creatives to push a specific message with our craft but that is not our intent with this series. With the first installment of our project, “Trans Atlantic,” and with the additional two chapters involving portraiture and a short film, we hope to simply be storytellers and create art that inspires people and makes them think.

Submitted by Hajji Mutonye, more on the photographer and project found here.

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Tim Behuniak's picture

Incredible message and photographs. I particularly enjoy the last two images. Thanks for sharing! :)

Sorry. I couldn't get past all the self-congratulatory rhetoric. I was afraid I would throw up on my keyboard.

Slow clap...

Jeff Walsh's picture

this is incredible and powerful work

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Amazing, beautiful work and words

William Howell's picture

I think you need to make one called “Trans Indian Ocean.”
There are over fouteen million slaves in India today!
This series of photographs isn’t relevant, because slaves haven’t been transported across the Atlantic in over two hundred years. But slavery is happening right now, where is that series of photographs?

Some people prefer issues that don't need fixing so they can "call attention to it" and feel good about themselves. Not saying that's the case here but...

Elan Govan's picture

Totally agree with you about India, a lot of work needs to be done. But history is very relevant when we change or try to change social perspectives for the better. Remember how child labor was changed, or the current sexual harassment cases is being handled. There is a natural tendency to deny its existence.

Another great example of historical wrong is the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church and Galileo.

"For nearly 350 years, the Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo, until Pope John Paul II rectified one of the Church's most infamous wrongs -- the persecution of the Italian astronomer and physicist for proving the Earth moves around the Sun". in the early 1990's.

Anonymous's picture

The series isn’t relevant because the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade ended over 200 years ago? Read their description before making such an ignorant comment:

“Since slavery is a sensitive topic, we decided to do our best to approach the topic from a more academic and historical reference point.”

And where are series of photographs on modern day slavery? Look up Lisa Kristine, among others.

C’mon people. Think harder before you comment.

William Howell's picture

But what about slavery today?

Anonymous's picture

Are you joking? If not, read my comment again.

William Howell's picture

I’m not kidding, what about slavery today?
What is your remedy? More photographs?

Anonymous's picture

“we chose to approach this project from an artistic point of view without trying to be overly intellectual or offer solutions to problems.“

“Look up Lisa Kristine”

Read what they wrote and what I wrote with more care and thought.

William Howell's picture

Hence, the irrelevancy, no solutions offered, just muck raking.

Anonymous's picture

Wow. How many times do I have to tell you to read carefully? Can’t fix this level of stupid.

William Howell's picture

I know, that’s why I’m not gonna try.

Anonymous's picture

It’s obvious you’re not going to try much of anything if it involves reading carefully.

What does that even mean? Seriously? I was finally able to get past the writing and give the images a good look. Even reading the intent, I don't see it. Who is the audience? Be honest here: if there were no description, would you have any idea what they were trying to say? For me, the description is the only idea I have. The photos just don't support the concept.
Personally, and this summarizes my first comment, it sounded more like they were trying to be relevant rather than actually being relevant.
A much more powerful example of this kind of thing is the scene in Glory, where Denzel Washington is being whipped. I could feel the pain, looking at his face. And then to read, later, he insisted on actually being whipped so he could more accurately portray the pain and insisted Matthew Broderick watch him being whipped, against his will, so the camera would capture the very real anguish on his face, watching Mr. Washington being whipped... THAT was art and relevant. This? This is nothing.

Anonymous's picture

It’s not my job to help you understand conceptual photography, or the rather straightforward description of it.

You liked that scene from Glory. Great. Glad it affected you. So why piss on something else that affects others? Because you don’t want to take the time to get it, or lack the ability too? Not my problem.

Just as I thought. No commenter has actually commented on the project. "Incredible" "Powerful" "Beautiful" :-p You don't really get it either. That's okay. Most artsy people don't really get it since there's often nothing to get. But when there is... :-)

Anonymous's picture

OK fine. You want to label me “artsy” because I didn’t want to explain the straightforward to you? Well here it is: the collection of images represent the concept of slavery and the enduring impact on modern society. It uses historical cues (chains, wicker baskets- which, from my personal interpretation- represent bales used to pick cotton) and placed them anachronistically on people dressed in modern style. This allows us to reflect on the continued impact of slavery’s effect on society by making a jarring juxtaposition.

That’s all there in the images and is bolstered by the description, if you’re willing to look and think. You don’t have to like the pictures, but you also don’t have to ignorantly dismiss them (and anyone who finds them powerful) either.

I understood that was the intent. I just don't think it achieved it. So you really would have gotten that without a description? Hmm..
Anyway, disagreement (with anyone who finds them powerful) is not the same as dismissal but, in this case, it comes close.
I really do appreciate you replying, though.

Have a good day.

Anonymous's picture

I never said I would have understood the images with that level of detail without the description. Words have been used with photographs since the beginning. Having them doesn’t distract from the quality of the images.

And saying you nearly threw up on your keyboard before you finished reading is dismissing it, not disagreeing with it.

Good day to you too.

I'm sorry. I thought it was clear I didn't like the "self-congratulatory rhetoric." At that point, I hadn't even looked that closely at the photos or much of their description. The author just sounded like he was patting the whole team on the back which is never a good look.

Anonymous's picture

OK I appreciate the clarification.

Kamau Patrick's picture

There are two introduction images that haven't been highlighted in this article but are available on the photographer's blog, the link between Trans Atlantic and Present is this old man who was used in this hypothetical scenario of having lived long enough to have witnessed the original trade and how that mentality still exists in present times.

Kamau Patrick's picture

Actually it doesn't specifically talk about what happened 200 years ago, story told through a hypothetical scenario of an old man who've lived long enough to witness the actual trade and is the link between past and what is happening today. There are two introduction images are on photographer's blog that aren't present here..

Anonymous's picture

Yes I saw that on the blog. Thanks for brininging that up. That description helped situate some of the images, but honestly, I felt the pictures were descriptive enough without that much detail (although I did appreciate it).

Kamau Patrick's picture

Thanks Samuel 😊 Was in response to those taking the whole conversation out of context.

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