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Patrick Wokmeni: Untitled, From the series Les Belles de New Bell 2006

Monique Pelser
12 November 2013

A review by Monique Pelser

30 x 40 cm Digital inkjet print

Wokmeni comes from New Bell, a populated neighborhood of Douala, where he roams the street at night photographing alternative cultures in post-independent Cameroon. He is a flaneur an idler walking the streets at night witnessing the beauty and sadness in debauchery, decay and social crisis.

This photograph has a from-the-hip quality.  The image is skewed and harshly flashed giving it the snapshot aesthetic.  In this great and subtly provocative photograph he has captured a woman, who works in the nightclub as a prostitute, gesturing at him.  A strong on-camera flash illuminates her as she stares deadpan at him and at the camera.

Wokmeni’s photograph is a great example of the power of the gaze – of a loaded gaze. How the photographer is looking at and taking from his subject and how his subject is the object and the product of that gaze and she returns it. She is looking directly back at him aware of her own power. This interaction makes one intensely aware of his presence as a man and as a photographer.

The image is aesthetically strong with the red couch and graphic triangle patterns on the wall, which are repeated by the triangle formation made by the way in which she is sitting on the couch.  But while it is a strong image aesthetically it is also a sad image.   There is a power of sadness in her bare feet and silver toenail polish, the way her hand is placed on the couch and how her white high wedge shoes are placed and cut off. 

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