“The first tool in photography is light,” says NJAHEUT, the Belgian-Cameroonian photographer whose series What I Let Appear, Masculin Bleuté and Printemps are shown here. In all three portrait collections, the artist plays with brightness and shadow – a quality he calls the “mirror” of light. His goal: to look beyond the surface. “When we confront human beings, we stop at the appearance and not at what we could see, like their personalities,” the artist observes. As an antidote, these pictures invite us to “focus on bodies and objects – rather than the interpretations we make of them.” NJAHEUT is interested in the complexities of identity, breaking down stereotypes and, ultimately, celebrating our shared humanity.
In What I Let Appear, smartphones are used to illuminate facial features: ears, eyes and jawlines glow from within familiar rectangular screens. It’s a striking comment on “the self” in the digital age, asking questions about who we really are versus what we share online: a key conversation for our times. A 2020 study, for example, showed that 71% of people won’t post a picture online without photoshopping it. Likewise, the “Instagram Reality” subreddit – which seeks to expose the use of Photoshop and Facetune on social media – currently has 1.1 million members. As technology evolves, and “virtual influencers” garner millions of followers on Instagram, the definition of reality is becoming ever-more blurred.
Elsewhere, NJAHEUT’s signature colour palette continues to feature deep blues and bright purples. Luminous lilac flowers, for example, balance on shoulders or bloom from mouths, reflecting delicately off the skin like buttercups on a sunny day. Outdoors, pale blossoms appear from the collar of an anonymous figure, surrounded by deep navy skies and dark green grasses. Their face is obscured, covered by bouquets and encroaching dark clouds. NJAHEUT began his career passionate about drawing and filmmaking – skills which be seen here in carefully observed hues, tones and lines.
All images courtesy NJAHEUT.