South African photographer Monique Pelser tells PHOTO/arts Magazine some background details about her haunting 2008 series, Bystanders...
Bystanders were photographed with a cheap Nokia phone camera. In early 2008 I went to a talk by Marlene Dumas at the University of Witwatersrand School of Arts (where I was lecturing in photography) and while she was talking I was wondering about the images she quite obviously appropriates from the media and how, as a painter, she can do this without any worry about copyright. In response to this I started looking at photographs in the newspapers and other popular media such album covers and started to extrapolate background information.
Initially I was going to use a macro lens on my camera and found I could not get close enough to make the kind of crop that I was after. I was explaining what I wanted to start working on to my mother and she was not clearly understanding me so I took out my cell phone to shoot an example and I was blown away by how close up I could get with that little camera. So I began working that way. In order to develop a body of portraits I focused the Bystanders project by seeking out photographs in the South African newspaper archives in Johannesburg. The images I looked for were front page images of the days of important events in South African history. So for example I found an image published on the day that Nelson Mandela was released, I then looked out for background and incidental characters and photographed those portraits.
Formally the image files are very small and therefore they pixilate quite radically (even if you print them around a4 size) but they also capture the quality of the newspaper. It was my intention to push the work towards a painterly quality (without the use of filters!) but to still retain it's photographic integrity.
Monique Pelser, born in 1976 in Johannesburg South Africa, is a visual artist currently working and living in Cape Town. Tierney Fellowship recipient for 2010 and voted by Art South Africa as a bright young artist for 2007, Pelser is well known for her role reversal portraits. Pelser was educated at the Market Photography workshop in 1996 and in fine art at Rhodes University Grahamstown where she majored in the photographic arts. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters of Fine Art with distinction.
Since 2007 she has lectured in photography and visual art at Rhodes University, AAA School of Advertising in Cape Town and Johannesburg, The Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, Stellenbosch Visual Arts Department and Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg.
Along with Sabelo Mlangeni and Musa Nxumalo she was selected as one of three South African photographers to attend the Maputo Curators Meeting, Mozambique in 2008, the Bamako Curators Meeting, Mali in 2009 and the Addis Photo Fest Portfolio Readings in Ethiopia in 2010. In 2011, along with Sammy Baloji, she was invited to co-curate the show Témoin/ Witness which show-cases the work of the group of photographers who have been involved in the Curators Meetings across the continent. Témoin opened in Bamako, Mali in 2011 and is set to tour to various centers across Africa in 2012.
Monique Pelser's current project, Conversations With My Father, is a combination of modes of photography- her own photographic prints; which are still lives of police things that were collected by her father, a series of found photographs of her father's graduating Troops at the police college, and a digital photographic installation of some images her father took while at the police force. This series, as well as additional works by Pelser can be seen on the artist's website.
Monique Pelser's website