Swiss photographer Flurina Rothenberger’s has spent most of her career photographing the continent where she grew up, Africa. Her photographs focus on the expanding urban landscape, often based in some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and the people that move within it, from fashionable teenagers to savvy businessmen. They paint a picture of a continent in rapid development and the swings of globalisation, with a strong and varied cultural heritage. They also go some way in counter-balancing the image of a continent constantly in crisis that we so often see in the media. It is a “sobering approach” that is often lacking from the visual discussion surrounding the continent.
Raised in Zuénoula, Ivory Coast, she now works between Switzerland and West Africa. Both her long-term personal projects and commercial work focus on daily life she encounters wherever she travels.Addressing the difficulties of summarising an entire continent the size of Africa as one place, her emphasis on the ordinary places the focus on some of the people that she encounters, and reflects how varied their lives are. Her photographs don’t aim to show everything the continent has to offer, but instead look at dismantling some of the generalisations. Even so, she is aware that she is still approaching the subject from a Western perspective. She explains: “I wish my work was fully free of the kind of images Binyavanga Wainana labeled as “poverty pornography”. It certainly isn’t. I’ve fallen into that trap just like most Western photographers. Mass media operates in terms of which message sells fastest and cheapest to the widest audience possible. Obviously this isn’t the best equipped vessel to explain a context from a place with great diversity and complexity.” Her work simply offers a small window into the many facets.
She recently published I love to dress like I am coming from somewhere and I have a place to go, covering 10 years of working across different African countries. Delving into her archive, the photographs are underpinned by an understanding that one can’t simply cover an entire continent in one book. “How do you capture the scope, breadth and diversity of Africa? A plethora of lifestyles, dress codes, attitudes, moments in history, and landscapes, just as exciting, or banal, as each other” she asks in the prelude to the book. The photographs are filled with a sense of confidence and vibrancy, bringing together portraits with cityscapes, rural landscapes and personal spaces. The photographs are complemented by witty hand-painted slogans that one commonly sees in West African homes, such as ‘Don’t worry about my Life. It’s my Talent’.
The real strength of her work comes through in the many people that she has photographed. Africa has the highest concentration of young people on the planet, all trying to find their way in life as anywhere else. It is these people that she has decided to focus on. Most of the subjects seem very eager to pose for the camera, playing their part in front of the lens, they are brimming with confidence. The resulting portraits feel like a collaboration between photographer and subject; “If someone agrees to be photographed, regardless the scenario, they will meet me and the camera with doubtless presence. Intuitively or consciously adding their intention and vision to mine. It’s one of the many stimulating aspects I love, admire and at times envy a bit.” When placed next to the her other photographs of contemporary Africa, they show ordinary life like any other, with people simply trying to make their way through.
This year she has already travelled to Mozambique, Benin and Ivory Coast, continuously exploring the continent and its many facets. Her work adds to a growing alternative view of the African continent, presented by photographers both native, and from abroad, underpinned by platforms such as Everyday Africa. As one of the slogans reads; ‘ We face neither East nor West. We face Forward.’
“I’d bluntly say it’s about ordinary life, unpretentious and exciting. It’s also an invitation to zap through selected areas of a vast and diverse continent, one which is neither drowning in collective hopelessness nor vibrantly rushing towards prosperity. In reality, people here are like everyone else in the world – active players living their lives and making something out of it.“
Flurina Rothenberger’s (Switzerland, 1977) work is focused on contemporary subjects from the African continent. The photographer was raised in Ivory Coast and graduated with distinction from University of Arts in Zurich’s photography department. In 2004 Flurina launched her first publication I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on the way with publisher Edition Patrick Frey. She has since been documenting topics for international clients related to different countries and regions in Africa. Flurina’s work has been nominated and awarded over the last years. Her recent book, I love to dress like I am coming from somewhere and I have a place to go, brings the style and glamour of everyday life to the fore. Flurina regularly lectures at F+F school of Art and Design, Zurich and at University of Arts and Design, Zurich. Flurina is the Co-initiator of Edition Nice, a magazine with, for and about Africa’s young generation. She is Co-Founder of Claim the Story, a photo agency and training center on the move for photographers on the African continent.