A half-length portrait of a woman with long braided hair and wearing several beaded necklaces.
Zanele Muholi composed these portraits with her sitters filling the frame and looking directly into the camera. They meet us with powerful gazes, seeming to examine us as much as we do them.
The women in Zanele Muholi’s series, Faces and Phases , are lesbians. They live in southern African nations, especially South Africa, where they are often persecuted for their sexual orientation. In these countries L.G.B.T. individuals are victims of brutal beatings, “corrective rapes,” and even murder. By agreeing to participate in this photographic project, these women risked physical harm, yet they pose boldly in Muholi’s images.
In his riveting study of the middle ages, Johan Huizinga described people from that period enduring “the violent tenor of life.” Without photography we can only imagine the emotional impact that must have had. In Muholi’s photographs, we look into the eyes of individuals living in terror, yet who stand defiant in the face of the “violent tenor” of their own lives.
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