Please Don’t Smile By Malte Wandel
Malte Wandel lived for nine months of 2011 in Ghana. Among the other countries he also travelled through were neighbouring Burkina Faso and Togo. During his journeys, he produced a comprehensive series of portraits of people he met and in some cases also got to know personally. Some he photographed spontaneously, while others he visited at home in their familiar surroundings.
In the series Please Don’t Smile, Wandel successfully captures moments of the present in West African towns, from which he highlights certain protagonists and tells their stories. Anna Schneider, curatorial assistant of Okwui Enwezor at Haus der Kunst, writes: “Discreetly, he approaches passers-by, places eccentric individuals and representatives of unknown subcultures centre-frame and allows us an unusual view into life and personalities in today’s West Africa. Directly and unmodified, Wandel’s work deals with a wide variety of characters and the circumstances of their lives – during their hard daily work but also in their leisure time. As well as in the simple FARMER in Kakum (Ghana), on his way with machete and spade into the fields, carrying his lunch in a small metal cooking pot on his head, the series in FOFO shows a young man, with a set of self-made lifting weights in front of him, staring intensely and proudly into the camera, the concrete slab under him appearing to collapse under his weight. OLD SKUUL is the name of a group of youngsters who dress in their leisure time like their forefathers did in colonial times, not African style, but European. Old photographs provide the template for their sometimes absurd interpretations of fashion.
In his full-body photographs, Malte Wandel focuses on the steadfast look into the camera and allows, with the respectful distance, space for individual expression – between humility, pride and confidence. Ghana is West Africa’s great source of hope, but dreams can arise here, too, dreams based on models of the western world. With almost loving care Wandel presents in FOOTBALL PLAYER young amateurs like budding soccer stars. As youths do all over Africa, they dream of being discovered one day by the great football teams of this world and put on a particular set of outfit for every practice match.
Similarly self-aware are the SURFERS of the Ghanaian national team on the beach at Busua. The place has developed its own subculture around a local surfing shop – set up by a US-American NGO – and the young surfers stream out of their shacks carrying their boards whenever the waves are good.
19-year-old Stanley, who earns his living as a Michael Jackson look-alike in the nightlife of Ghana’s capital, Wandel sets against the rocky beach at Accra, transporting him into the world of art and the artist. Here he reveals most strongly the motivation of photographers who work like him, here he clearly distances himself stylistically from pure documentation and invites the observer to reconsider photographic genres as well as the relationship between photographer and the photographed person or subject.” ❚