By Stephen Williams
Tanzania - African Eden
Photographs by Javed Jafferji
Text by Graham Mercer
£30.00 The Gallery Publications, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Coffee-table books, especially on Africa, have always presented me with problems. The photographs are usually stunning - not a very difficult achievement considering how stunning Africa is to photograph and the text is usually lively and factually accurate. But there has always been something missing. Most of these coffee-table books have been produced by outsiders for outsiders. The inevitable result is that your perceptions of the subject are circumscribed by the limitations of the photographer and author.
For example, a photographer who neither speaks the language of the area he is filming nor is steeped in its culture, will see only shape, colour and form and compose his pictures accordingly. The result, especially in pictures of people, while accurate from a photographic point of view, is often completely lacking in the spirit of the subject. Therefore it is hardly surprising that some of the best pictures of contemporary life are those taken by natives of the places featured.
Africa, unfortunately, has suffered in this regard since so few native Africans have looked at their continent through a camera lens and tried to record the emotional impact of their views. South Africa has been the exception - producing a host of top drawer photographers. These have ranged from superb landscape and wildlife photographers to award-winning social documentarists , many of them black.
Now Javed Jafferji can justly claim to belong to this elite group. His cultural base is Zanzibar - an island whose magic neither time nor politics seems to have been able to extinguish. In his previous work and in this volume, he has tried to capture the essence of this magic, to somehow obtain an imprint of the genie on film. He has lovingly caressed the Arabian Nights architecture of the stone town, the dazzling show of light and shade on textures of wood and stone. He explores the nooks and crevices of the narrow streets and manages to induce the sense of mystery, wonder and anticipation that you feel when walking these alleys. His pictures donít so much tell a story as point enticingly to the hundreds of human stories that lie just hidden from sight.
In this volume, Jafferji has taken on the whole of Tanzania, i.e. the mainland formerly known as Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. This has allowed him full scope to train his lens on the astonishing beauty of the landscape. He allows the majesty of nature, unfettered and unconfined to burst through. It is nature raw and sharp and clear and it has shaped the creatures, both human and animal that inhabit this Eden.
But he always returns to areas where people congregate - the towns and cities and the coast which he loves so well. He is photographing people on the move as they change and adapt to new times and necessities yet remain the same at the core.
This is an insiderís rendering of one of the most interesting and achingly beautiful spots in the world.
Graham Mercer, who provides the text, cannot claim the same insider status and it shows. However, the text is lucid, well researched and doled out in convenient bite-sized chunks.
Tanzania, African Eden is one coffee-table book you should not be without. If nothing else, it is a wonderful antidote to all those tales of doom and gloom that so pervade our continent.
The Gallery Publications, P.O. Box 3181, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Tel: +25524 232244; mobile: +255471 320 644
UK distributors: Global Book Marketing, 38 King Street, London WC2E 8JT.
Tel: +44 (0)207 487 0309.
Book ID 896