Bart Luirink

Unnamed Worlds and Burning Suns

Images that won this years’ Contemporary African Photography Prize are full of gaps and wonder

The best story a photographer can tell lies in images that still leave something to guess and stimulate the imagination. Four years ago, French photographer Romaric Tisserand (1974, Toulouse) found six rolls of negatives on a street in Lisbon. He printed one-hundred-and-sixty-six of the images. Together, fitted in colourful frames, they have become ‘Ultramar, the story of the Empire Travel Club.’ They reveal a world of African soldiers, their girlfriends and trips through an unnamed world. Where is this, who are they, which conflict?

Romaric Tisserand
Photo: Romaric Tisserand

Tahir Karl Karmali (1987, Nairobi), another winner of Popcap '15, the by now authoritative competition of contemporary African photography, also leaves gaps unfilled. His ‘self portraits’ are a tribute to the ‘Jua Kali,’ -Swahili for scorching sun-, the street traders around whom the economy of the city turns.

Photo: Tahir Carl Karmali
Photo: Tahir Carl Karmali, Untitled

Third winner Filipe Branquinho (1977, Mozambique), leads us into the 'interior landscape' of Maputo’s beau monde. The radio archives, public toilets, swimming pool and cinema show the city’s grandeur, a ‘present of the past,’ but without any romantic nostalgia or sentimentality.

Photo: Filipe Branquinho
Photo: Filipe Branquinho, Rádio Moçambique, Discoteca

The latter is also carefully avoided in the work of Zied Ben Romdhane (1981, Tunis), the only entry in black and white, that portrays the ‘children of the moon' in his country. They suffer from a skin disease called xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Photo: Zied Ben Romdhane
Photo: Zied Ben Romdhane, Amani (10) can only go out to play in the street after the sun has set Ariena, Tunisia, 2013

Final winner Zed Nelson (1965, Kampala and UK), is most explicit in his work: South Africa - After Mandela. According to this photographer, most blacks in the country are worse off after the end of apartheid, while the wealth of whites has only increased. The former are therefore ‘frustrated,’ the latter ‘afraid’ to lose the many things they have. Quite a simplification of a complex reality.

Photo: Zed Nelson
Photo: Zed Nelson, Mark Solms, vineyard owner and wine producer. Solms-Delta farm Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa, 2014

It is a bit of a shame that the caption accompanying this wonderful series leaves so very little to guess. The images shot in Johannesburg’s Rand Club, the vineyards around Cape Town, the domains of the homeless ‘bergies’ in that city, on Clifton beach and in the real estate agent’s office all tell their own stories.

An international jury announced its choice of the winners of the fourth edition of POPCAP in April. A selection from all entries can be seen between 18 and 21 June during Art Basel and later this year at Lagos Photo and the Festival Internacional de Fotografia de Cabo Verde.

Photo: Filipe Branquinho
Photo: Filipe Branquinho, Piscina do Maxaquene Maputo, 2013

Photo: Zed Nelson
Photo: Zed Nelson, Porsche, Clifton beach Cape Town South Africa, 2014

Photo: Tahir Carl Karmali
Photo: Tahir Carl Karmali, both Untitled

Photo: Zied Ben Romdhane
Photo: Zied Ben Romdhane, Amani (10) strokes her horse khmisa in the courtyard of her house. she has a special relationship with her horses Ariena, Tunisia, 2013
Photo: Romaric Tisserand
Photo: Romaric Tisserand, both Untitled 2001

More work from the winning photographers on

Bart Luirink is ZAM’s editor in chief. He was also a member of the jury of POPCAP ’15.

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