Of the hundreds of galleries in London, none has been dedicated exclusively to the growing and dynamic market for African photography. So far, that is.
Doyle Wham is the brainchild of two young Londoners who shun Britain’s ‘elitist’ art scene to open what they say is the country’s first-ever gallery dedicated exclusively to African photographers.
“We knew so many amazing photographers who were based in Africa but weren’t on display or even noticed,” says Imme Dattenberg-Doyle, 27, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London.
She and her friend, Sofia Carreira-Wham, 28, a museum and heritage specialist, opened Doyle Wham as a new permanent gallery in a converted warehouse in London’s Shoreditch.
The founders started by offering pop-ups and one-off exhibitions of African photography – “not safari shots by random people, but African photography by Africans!” Carreira-Wham said.
“It sounds like a niche, but for us it wasn’t really that,” she says. “We had been sending amazing African photographers to each other via social media for some time, and spent a lot of time attending exhibitions, but we didn’t see any of these exciting talents show up.”
This talent begins with Trevor Stuurman from South Africa, Doyle Wham’s first major solo show. His bold, highly stylized images depict black men and women in poses that the artist says are meant to uplift and celebrate Africans, and to take back the narrative so that Africans, like him, tell “the story African”, rather than having it imposed on them. on them by others.
Despite Stuurman’s huge success in his home country, with subjects including Barack Obama, Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé, the 29-year-old’s photograph has never been featured in a gallery in Britain.
Addressing the Observer from his home in Johannesburg, Stuurman says the gallery is an indispensable platform for African artists.
“I feel like so many things have been stolen from Africa, and it’s about getting them back. That’s why I think photography is such a powerful medium – it allows us to tell the story and show what [the continent] looks like now – to cultivate a better understanding of what Africa is,” he says.
Stuurman grew up in a small mining town a five-hour drive from Johannesburg and started taking pictures at the age of 14, not with a conventional camera but using an inexpensive cell phone, he says. (Stuurman’s family had little money, and his father died while he was still in high school.)
He took pictures of his friends, mimicking poses they had seen in glossy magazines at the local grocery store. After leaving school, he took an SLR camera through the streets of Cape Town and took pictures of ordinary people. This earned him his big break, winning a competition with She magazine and a trip to London – her first time outside South Africa.
At 19, he finds himself in the front row of a Burberry show. It was surreal, he said. “These characters that I had seen in magazines were literally in front of me. It was a world that I had always considered a fantasy – and I was part of it.
A decade later, Stuurman has been credited with helping to change the visual narrative of contemporary Africa (Beyoncé chose him to work on style and costume design for her 2020 film black is king).
“Being African is my superpower. I want to use it to capture African images that don’t exist on Google,” he says.
This idea of shedding new light on Africa, instead of focusing on the continent’s wildlife, poverty or charity, is also central to Doyle Wham, says Carreira-Wham.
Later this year they will exhibit the work of Gabonese photographer Yanis Davy Guibinga, Nigerian Morgan Otagburuagu and Angèle Etoundi Essamba from Cameroon – artists who each have incredible and authentic stories to tell through their work, she says, but which are hitherto unknown to the outside. their own countries.
The founders of Doyle Wham also hope to challenge the snobbery and perceived low value of African photography in UK galleries and auction houses.
“People (especially men) come up to us all the time and say things like, ‘but collectors don’t want aluminum frames’ – and ‘there is no value in African photography’,” says Dattenburg-Doyle.
“And we’re like, OK, we’ll find out for ourselves, thank you.”
They try to put that elitism aside, they say, and come up with their own ideas – like “snaps and schnapps nights” every Thursday. Not one for the purists, perhaps, but everything to get people – especially the younger ones – through the gallery door.
Trevor Sturman: Life through the lens from May 13 to July 2 at the Doyle Wham in London