CO-OP Encounters #12: Yaounde Photo Network

by Unseen2 September 17 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. Introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encourages artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

Just days before CO-OP at Unseen Amsterdam opens its doors, we talk to Christine Eyene, Founder of Yaounde Photo Network, a collective which aims to foster a creative dialogue between Cameroonian and international practitioners.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
Yaounde Photo Network (YPN) defines itself as a platform. It was set up in 2018 after the pilot project YaPhoto, which I co-founded with Cameroonian artist and curator Landry Mbassi. The initial idea was to support ‘young’ or ‘emerging’ Cameroonian photographers, in a context where very few avenues exist for those practitioners. As an open platform, YPN has from the outset engaged with talented members from collectives, as well as other independent photographers, some based further afield than Cameroon’s main urban centres of Douala and Yaounde.

Another inspiration behind the birth of YPN and its preceding pilot version was the desire to address the underrepresentation of Cameroonian photography within the field of what is generically called ‘African photography’. While African photography has gained recognition on the international scene since the 1990s, Cameroon is rarely present at major photography exhibitions, even those held on the continent.

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?
YPN is a new project and at the moment it is difficult for us to gauge the market. For that reason, showcasing works from the platform as part of CO-OP at Unseen Amsterdam is a great opportunity to engage with the art market. Generally speaking, in Cameroon, many photographers have to take on journalistic or commercial assignments, often in addition to other jobs, in order to make a living. This is why very few photographers venture into practicing photography as an art. There is no venue dedicated to photography that could harness a local interest and attract Cameroonian collectors. As it stands, accessing a market, be it local or international, remains a challenge.

We know from the interest in ‘African photography’ that has manifested itself since the 1990s that an international market exists. On the continent, South Africa, Nigeria or Mali, to name but a few, are well identified market places. We wish to facilitate access to similar market opportunities to talented Cameroonian photographers. One of the objectives of YPN is indeed to support our photographers achieve levels of sustainability so they can make a living from their work and further develop their practice.

Since the creation of our website, we’ve received numerous requests from organisations wishing to commission Cameroonian photographers for local assignments. But to get the photographers’ work acquired by collectors would be fantastic. It would make such a difference.

What sets you apart from other collectives?
Yaounde Photo Network is a sort of insider-outsider dialogue. The platform is not so much about creating collectively as it is about shared contexts of creation and the development of common strategies to address the many challenges faced by the photographers. Collectively their work provides a visual narrative of our country but there are many more stories to be told. From the beginning, our activities have included seminars looking at the history of photography, particularly within the context of Africa, and its reception in the West where further critical insight comes into play. Public provision for photography education is very limited in the country. So, sharing knowledge is very important.

What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
For Unseen Amsterdam, we are presenting a broad range of images to give visitors a sense of Cameroon’s emerging photography practices.  Our highlights will include a selection of works by Yvon Ngassam from his Bandjoun series created in 2017 during his residency at Bandjoun Station. In a way, these images will serve as a scenic introduction to the Cameroonian landscape, with views of past and present architectures seen through a contemporary lens. Max Mbakop’s untitled series (2016 - present) is a work-in progress depicting crews of roller-skaters and BMX riders in the streets of Douala, and Antoine Ngolke do’o’s Red Hour (2017) focuses on sex workers, taking the viewer into some of the marginalised and underground aspects of life in Yaounde. We’ll also take part in a public talk to discuss the current state of photography in Cameroon and how YPN responds to the local context through diverse projects and collaborations.

Image: Untitled, from the series Feou Kake, 2012-2017 © Blaise Djilo