On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
FEYDER, Sophie. Lounge photography and the politics of township interiors: the representation of the black South African home in the Ngilima photographic collection, East Rand, 1950s. Kronos [online]. 2012, vol.38, n.1, pp. 131-153. ISSN 2309-9585.
This article attempts to historically contextualise and interpret a selection of photographs from the collection of South African ambulant photographer Ronald Ngilima and his son Torrance. Ngilima pioneered indoor portraiture in the Benoni townships of the early 1950s, thanks to his early acquisition of artificial lighting. As a consequence, his black, Coloured and Indian clients increasingly chose to be photographed at home, in particular within the space of their lounge (sitting room), or in Ngilima's lounge-studio. In these portraits, the subject poses amidst a lavish display of objects (tea cups, ashtray, gramophone...), furniture and homemade decorations (doilies, curtains, newspaper clippings...). Though the lounge portraits represent only a fraction of the entire Ngilima collection, I approach this subset of about 170 images as evidence as to how the residents of Wattville township appropriated the uniform sub-economic houses through long-term improvement schemes, contrasting with the apartheid State's deliberate efforts to frame them as temporary tenants. More broadly, these images invite us to think of photography's role in the construction of space and of self-representations in relation to space. What is the idea of a lounge? Why did it become such a popular photographic background? How did vernacular photography help to articulate abstract notions of selfhood (such as respectability or modernity) within historically specific circumstances?