Review by Gerhard Clausing •
It is possible to develop many misconceptions about people and countries that we don’t know much about. Some of those views may be based on one-sided reports and specifically slanted selections of what is shown and described to us. It is equally common for journalists and photojournalists to concentrate on problems they find in their assignments abroad, and perhaps they unintentionally contribute to such less informed views at times. Put all these factors together and you have a perfect description of how outsiders have viewed, depicted, and described the continent of Africa for many centuries. Fortunately, there are some enlightened practitioners such as Andreas Herzau who are changing all that.
When Herzau visited Liberia for the third time in 2020, he was determined to search for a balanced view of how to present that country, as well as to document the substantial recent progress. As he states in the afterword, he wanted to get away from the generally prevalent western notion of the people of these countries as victims. Strife exists in all countries, to varying degrees at different times. But countries in Africa are also diverse and pulsing with colorful daily life, and are deserving of more balanced presentations, especially since conditions are improving. While each country has its unique characteristics and challenges, there is also much that we all share, and a balanced presentation such as this one on Liberia demonstrates this clearly.
The images shown in this generously sized and attractive photobook are a testament to the exuberant spirit of the people of this country. We see many colorful moments of everyday life that seem to indicate that life progresses with a great deal of joy, with an emphasis on daily needs and events. Herzau is especially skilled in providing us with unusual viewpoints that create a feeling of participation on the part of the viewer. The images are printed well, featuring verticals at 19 x 24 cm (almost 8 x 10 inches), while some horizontals extend across a double-page spread to 40 x 24 cm. Thus we get a feeling of being right in the middle of the action.
Local customs and clothing styles abound in areas that at times contain reminders that some of the material wealth of other parts of the globe are yet to make their presence felt here, while other wealth, especially one of hope and promise, is demonstrated in the ebullient optimism of the people. Herzau positions his camera in such ways that pull us right into intriguing scenarios, in a way that makes us think we are part of each particular moment – an astonishing skill that raises culture-focused photojournalism to an elevated art. Some black and white images interrupt the flow of color, perhaps to remind us that the basic structures and conditions are in search of further solutions. In addition, some pages of edited contact sheets also make us feel that we are participants in the process. The essay by Binyavanga Wainaina that partly inspired this project exposes an amazing catalogue of all the clichés about Africa that are demolished by Herzau’s work presented here.
I recommend this photobook highly – most especially as a model to others whose ‘street’ photography and photojournalism, both in their home country and especially elsewhere – has all to often focused on negative aspects and ignored the bigger picture. Andreas Herzau’s work is exemplary in its balanced presentation and its constructive approach.
The PhotoBook Journal previously reviewed Andreas Herzau’s AM, an innovative photobook on Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.
Gerhard Clausing is the Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal and a photographer and author.
Andreas Herzau – Liberia
Photographer: Andreas Herzau (born in Mainz, Germany; lives in Hamburg)
Essays: Binyavanga Wainaina, Andreas Herzau
Languages: English and German
Publisher: Nimbus. Kunst und Bücher, Wädenswil, Switzerland; © 2021
Hardback, sewn, with flexible linen cover; 146 pages with color and monochrome images; 22 x 26 cm ( 8.5 x 10.25 inches); printed and bound in Germany by Gulde Druck GmbH, Tübingen, and Josef Spinner, Ottersweier, respectively. ISBN 978-3-03850-079-7
Photobook Designer: Andreas Herzau
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).