/ 6 December 2019

The Portfolio: Niamh Walsh-Vorster




This photograph is from a recent series of mine, Faith & Ambiguity. It was made during an incubator programme at the Market Photo Workshop. My initial project idea involved photographing strangers. Instead, I decided to photograph something familiar: my family and their connection to the Methodist Church, in an attempt to “return the gaze”.

One of the places I went to was the church I grew up in, the Manning Road Methodist Church in Durban. I went upstairs and sat in a corner, waiting for moments to photograph.

My images are often quite far away, as discussed in reviews. Even though this series was about being in a familiar space, it could be seen that I would intentionally place myself on the periphery and was once again “looking in”. This is where the ambiguity part stands out, more than in a religious sense.

Many of the people I photographed have watched me grow up, but from the photos you would not know of that intimacy. Some individuals are still present, and other people are vague names and faces. I think that’s an honest way of life. You meet new people, you reconnect with ones from years ago. In the broader series there are people I still see or speak to just as there are people I have no deep or existing relationship with.

Several individuals were comfortable with the presence of my camera, because of our existing relationship. My father Michael, a minister and former bishop; Lauren, another minister who I sometimes babysit for (and who has babysat me); Hazel, the secretary of the Natal Coastal Bishop’s office. There was never a negotiation of how the photos were made.

Had this series been more disconnected, and had I pursued the first project of photographing people I did not know, I would never have realised the importance of interrogating one’s own experiences of spaces. The collaborative aspect is more natural, albeit a challenge to make your own story translate well into a seamless visual narrative.

Select photographs have been exhibited at the Market Photo Workshop and The African Art Centre. A multimedia version is online here