The Vanishing World of Africa’s Last Tribes.

Courtesy of Art Business News, Written by Gillian Macintosh  

British photographer, Christopher Rimmer brings the last tribes of Africa to New York in a breath taking series of large-scale photographic portraits. Art Expo, New York, 2019 was abuzz with excitement following the official launch of Christopher Rimmer’s latest body of work, Confluence – Tradition and Modernity and the Last Tribes of the Kunene River.

Photographed over three years and presented by New York art dealer, Charles Slatterey, Confluence is a visual documentation of the last remaining tribes who live along the Kunene River, which forms a natural border between Namibia and Angola in South West Africa. The series examines the social changes taking place among these traditionally pastoral and semi nomadic ethnic groups, as a large flow of foreign capital opens up their traditional lands to Western modernity.

Mwila Matriarch, Southern Angola, 2017. (Detail) Christopher Rimmer.

Rimmer has often used Southern Africa as a backdrop to his work indeed, his previous offering, Amapondo, which also debuted at Art Expo, New York in 2015, featured large scale portraits of the native Nguni cattle of South Africa who appear to enjoy a day at the beach, creating a unique and surreal backdrop to an oft featured subject of art history.

The celebrated portraitist was keen to avoid photographing animals as a subject for his latest body of work. Speaking on a very bad phone line recently from Southern India where he was on assignment for Condenast Traveller, Rimmer explains, ‘My first love is human portraiture and after the success of Amapondo, I was cautious of being pigeon holed as a photographer of animals alone. I have noticed that that my name is often prefaced in the media as such and it always makes me cringe as I know and have worked alongside some really amazing wildlife photographers from the BBC and National Geographic over the years who really know what they are doing.’

Ovakahona Mother & Baby, Southern Angola, 2016. Christopher Rimmer

As a backdrop, Rimmer employed what is known as a vertical scrim in the film industry; basically a large piece of translucent fabric which is stretched over a portable frame, ‘ I wanted to simplify the portraits and cut down on as many distractions as possible so the viewer connected with the form and the expression of the subject, but I still wanted to achieve a sense of place at the same time. All of the photographs are taken in natural light, normally at dawn just as the sun is rising. The scrim is back lit and this reveals the landscape but in a very subtle way which does not distract from the subject who is lit by reflective light from the front.’

Christopher Rimmer, Northern Namibia, 2017. Pic: Deborah Morgan.

Charles Slattery is well known in New York as a private dealer of photography and in a career spanning over 30 years he has brokered sales of some of the biggest names in photography of the 20th Century. He has represented Rimmer’s work in the U.S. since 2010. ‘The majority of the photographers in my stable, so to speak, are no longer with us.’ he explains, ‘My wife and I were on vacation in Australia back in 2010 when I first saw Christopher Rimmer’s photography in a gallery in downtown Sydney. I was immediately struck by the simple graphic power of his work and I got in touch with him after we returned home and offered to represent him in the U.S. because I anticipated that there would be a good market for his work over here.’

Ovahimba Elder, Kunene River, 2016. Christopher Rimmer

Slatterey’s intervention has seen his protégé’s profile as an artist increase exponentially making the U.S. the biggest market for his work, ‘He sells well in the E.U. too, says Slatterey, but I suspect I have probably sold more of his work here than anybody else.’

Ovahimba Girl in the Landscape, Southern Angola, Christopher Rimmer, 2016.

Confluence features twenty large-scale portraits of the Ovahimba, Ovakahona, Ovazimba, Mwila, Herero and Macubal people, each with their own traditions, language, dress and spiritual traditions. Rimmer believes that the rapid changes occurring in the Kunene River area will have a corrosive effect on the distinct cultures of these tribes, ‘Where ever I travel these days I see the homogenization of culture,’ says Rimmer, ‘The free flow of capital and the advent of the mass media has made the rapidity of this transformation all the more profound. I doubt what I have captured in Confluence will still be present in any genuine cultural context within twenty years which made the documentation of these last remaining tribes all the more urgent.’

Ovazimba Woman & Baby, Namibia, 2016. Christopher Rimmer