"Andrew Putter is a South African photographer and art activist with ties heavily connected to his home of Cape Town. His latest series of portraits as featured by the Stevenson group is a modern take on the work of Irish-born African Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin. Duggan-Cronin was known for his anthropological and photographic expeditions in Africa between 1919 and 1939, and Putter borrows from his style to create a series of portraits of contemporary black Capetonians.
The series consists of a black and white portrait of the subject in traditional tribal wear, immediately juxtaposed with a colour photo of the same subject in modern attire of their choice. The result is a fascinating examination of the colonial mindset and the ‘dangers inherent’ in the ethnographic/anthropological process, as subjects are often seen as a novelty object or something less than human.
In a nation rife with tense racial and colonial history, Native Work serves as an interesting reminder of the dehumanising elements of colonialism but is also a way of highlighting the passage of time healing some scars as Putter’s subjects are presented with a certain dignity and strength. This is further highlighted by the fact that each subject was given an individual choice for their costume, rather than the white photographer giving commands to the model. From the mouth of Putter himself:
'Cognizant of the dangers inherent in Duggan-Cronin’s colonial, ethnographic approach to making images, Native Work nevertheless recognises an impulse of tenderness running through his project…By trusting this impulse in Duggan-Cronin’s photographs, Native Work attempts to provoke another way of reading these images, and to use them in the making of new work motivated by the desire for social solidarity, a desire which emerges as a particular kind of historical possibility in the aftermath of apartheid.'
It’s an interesting contradiction, and serves as a reminder of the perils of a colonial ideology yet also as a humble tribute to the subjects portrayed and the history that rests on their shoulders."
- Kevin Loo, Literati, July, 2013