Alexia Webster is a South African photographer who usually specialises in documentary images, telling the stories of communities and families through portraits of the people. During lockdown she found herself, not at her own home in New York but in Johannesburg, her childhood home. She talks about this time in a fascinating article for the Guardian saying, ‘Suddenly I was forced to sit still. I felt a familiar unsettledness, similar to the anxious uncertainty of my early childhood growing up during apartheid’ (Webster, 2020). So she spent the time interviewing her parents about their early lives and searching though ‘giant, chaotic, dusty piles of family photos’. Out of that she has made a work Tracing Lives which she describes as ‘an incomplete portrait of my parents…. a small glimpse into the quiet violences and small triumphs of life’. This series includes early images from portrait studios of her parents and grandparents, her story of her parents’ early lives, and images where she has overlaid old images to give a ghost like effect. It ends with a looped video of two people, I presume her parents, dancing, fading in and out – just as their memories do.
The article and the images are fascinating, both as a different way of using old family images and for the story she tells. It tells about apartheid. About family traumas. About moments of joy. It is well worth reading.
Webster, A. (2020) ‘Tracing lives: a visual response to coronavirus’ In: The Guardian 26/06/2020 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jun/26/tracing-lives-visual-response-to-coronavirus (Accessed 30/08/2020).