Artists have a way of looking at the world differently. Italian photographer Martina Bacigalupo was doing NGO work in Northern Uganda and stopped into a photo studio to get a few shots developed. There, she noticed a portrait in which the face had been cut out. She soon learned that the cut-out had been taken to create an ID photo. The seeming trash, the faceless portraits, became the basis for her wonderfully strange book, "Gulu Real Art Studio".
In these empty white boxes, we discover Bacigalupo's new perspective on East African culture. While the documentary photography genre has long focused on conveying abject horror and destruction, Bacigalupo's found portraits give the viewer individually grounded stories of hope.
By reading the interviews in the second half of the book, we discover that the missing faces represent change and possibility: a new passport, a microfinance bank loan, a university ID. Bacigalupo is not blithe: the portraits also nod towards the region's troubled identity and long history of conflict. But in the end, the individuals we see are not caught up in this past, they are posing for a brighter future.
The book is an impressive achievement and a happy addition to our visual understanding of contemporary Africa.
Gulu Real Art Studio
by Martina Bacigalupo
112 pages, Hardbound
Editor's Note: Gulu Real Art Studio is currently being exhibited at the Walther Collection Project Space in New York City. The show will run until February 8, 2014 and is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, from 12pm to 6pm.