Emmanuelle Andrianjafy, Nothing’s in Vain

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by MACK (here). Hardcover, 112 pages, with 54 color and 20 duotone plates. Includes an essay by Emilie Øyen. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Emmanuelle Andrianjafy was born in Madagascar, and later moved to France to study electrical engineering. In 2011, she relocated to Senegal with her husband, and they settled in Dakar, a city with a population of over one million people. She assumed that her African background, although from a quite different part of the continent, and her years in France would help her to adapt to her new home. And yet, the transition wasn’t that easy, as she “found [herself] totally disoriented by [her] new environment, the different reality and energies.”

After working in the country for two years, Andrianjafy turned her attention to photography. In the first few years, her photographs were taken in black and white, mostly shot through her car window, and as she became more confident with the medium, she began to experiment with color. A workshop she took with JH Engström and Margot Wallard helped to connect all the elements of her project together, and eventually Andrianjafy’s series was turned into a book dummy. Nothing’s in Vain was later nominated for the MACK First Book Award, and ended up as its winner.

The photobook is Andrianjafy’s response to finding her place in the disorienting and vibrant Senegalese capital. “I decided to immerse myself in the environment, hoping it would help me process the city, make sense of it and address the questions it raised”. She turned this intimate emotional encounter with Dakar into a multi-layered visual narrative.

An imposing black and white image of a rocky cliff washed by ocean waves appears on the cover of the book. The title and artist’s name are printed in bright, buttery yellow, the color matched by a cotton strip around the spine, the design playing with contrast but also offering a bold introduction.

The book opens with an eclectic assortment of pictures that come together to create a vibrantly energetic mood. A blurry and hectic black and white street view silhouette taken from the car window is placed directly on the end paper, followed by several full bleed spreads. One shows a man sitting in the street, its saturated acidic yellowish pallette thrumming in contrast to the speed of the first image. The next is a view of abandoned buildings captured in muted washed out colors, followed by what seems like a close up of bloody fish meat on the sand. Clearly, Andrianjafy’s story of Dakar is filled with contradictions, a place brimming with high energy and filled with many faces.

Nothing’s in Vain captures the pulse of the city through a diverse and unexpected mix of images: from crowded street views and attentive details to wide patterned aerial shots and intimate portraits of locals. Dakar is seen from various vantage points – quick images of building facades shot from a moving car are merged with energetic and chaotic street scenes, while pictures of the ocean and nearby cliffs appear sporadically throughout the book reminding us that Dakar is a sun blasted port city. Andrianjafy’s portraits of its inhabitants are more personal. One depicts a young woman in a chic yellow dress posing as she smiles and looks in the camera; her crossed eye adds an enigmatic element to her fresh appearance.

The storytelling breadth at work here is also reinforced through the design of the book. Andrianjafy avoids a straightforward linear narrative, allowing the image sequencing and layout to pull the viewer along; it seems only fitting that the book fails to offer captions or even page numbers, simply immersing the viewer into its visual flow. The color pallette also continually shifts, moving from black and white and washed out sand tones to the brashness of eye catching urban colors. The text by Emilie Øyen, an American writer living in Dakar, at the end of the book adds to this roiling atmosphere and sensibility: “There is nothing to say or do, but to observe the way things are”.

As an outsider, it isn’t easy to take the measure of a place and feel its authentic rhythms, but Andrianjafy was clearly able to transform her discomfort and unease into an honest experience. In an interview with Aperture, she notes that “because Dakar has multiple faces and energies, it didn’t bother me to mix languages, to mix landscapes. It’s all part of the city and all part of my confusion about this place.” In encouraging the complexity of the city to permeate her pictures, she has allowed herself to craft a vivid personal diary, full of clashing realities and memorable intensity.

Collector’s POV: Emmanuelle Andrianjafy does not appear to have gallery representation at this time, nor does she have an obvious personal website, so those collectors interested in following up should likely reach out directly to the publisher.

Read more about: Emmanuelle Andrianjafy, MACK

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