Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Confessions of a Self-Published Author by Christine Porter

Today I hand over my blog to author Christine Porter, a fellow South African author. Welcome, Christine, and take it away!


I’m Christine Porter, and I’m a self-published author.

Four years ago, I would rather have lived on in unpublished obscurity than type those words. Self-publish? Heck no! That’s for people who are kidding themselves. People who lack the talent and skill to land a publisher.

Like many authors, I needed that pat on the back from a professional – someone whose job it is to recognise good writing – to know that my work was worth publishing. Writers tend to be solitary creatures riddled with self-doubt, and I believe many of us shy away from self-publishing because of it. If a publisher doesn’t want us, we must not be good enough.

My distaste for self-publishing is still shared by many, but with self-published books such as The Martian and The Hunger Games trilogy going as far as film adaptations, it’s certainly no longer a form of publishing that can be poo-pooed. Those titles – and many others – are well-written, well-edited and well-produced. They are a far cry from the vanity presses of a decade ago.

My own decision to self-publish came only after Peril Beyond the Waterfall was published electronically in 2011. I was suddenly shackled, not even free to market as I wished. The fact that there was no print version rankled a fair amount too.

I’m not slamming the publisher at all – they did everything that could be expected of a big publisher dealing with a completely unknown author in a completely unknown medium. The book actually sold. I was featured in a couple of publications and scraped in a review or two, but I’ve never been happy at the bottom of the priority list, so when I finally finished my second book, I knew the route I had to take.

I regained my rights from the publisher with very little fuss, and have reproduced and re-released the Peril Beyond the Waterfall that I wanted, with the cover I wanted, and the illustrations I wanted in print. I love this version of Peril. I resented the former.

The decision to self-publish spelled freedom. It’s been an absolute joy working on the project, and meeting like-minded writer types who have walked the same path. It’s far from easy. Every aspect of the book has to be considered, and you don’t have a publisher to think about things for you. You have to take ownership of the entire project and ensure that the quality is high, otherwise you really are no better than vanity-published.

I’m not sure I’m entirely past my distaste for self-publishing. I still feel it’s necessary that people know that I had a publisher, and chose self-publishing despite this. To me, it lends legitimacy. It must also be said that I would not have been able to self-publish four years ago. It takes a significant up-front financial investment, and back then I simply would not have been able to carry the costs. That is why publishers exist. That is where their value lies. In my case, though? I’m enjoying this independent ride much too much to stick my wrists back into the shackles any time soon.

My next title, Night of the Cologoro, is the first that I will be producing entirely independently. The experience I’ve gained and connections I’ve made help immensely. There’s a whole support structure that I didn’t have four years ago. It’s hard work. It really is. But I love it, and I’m excited, and I am going to make it work. Watch me.

Buy your copy of Peril Beyond the Waterfall at Ereads, Amazon, or in print.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Don't Film Yourself Having Sex by Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer #review

Title: Don’t Film Yourself Having Sex
Authors: Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2014

As the title of this book suggests, it’s full of very useful advice, and as authors Emma Sadleir and Tamsyn de Beer say, please never, ever, ever film yourself having sex. Just don’t do it. Don’t even let your partner tempt you as a way to spice up your kinky time.

To give a little background, Sadleir and De Beer are attorneys and their areas of expertise cover print and electronic media law – so basically, they really know their ins and outs with regard to the use of the internet and social media, and they’ve written this book to give Joe Public the low-down on how to survive the many pitfalls presented by the internet.

While many of us would hesitate to say or do nasty things to people to their face, social media and our many electronic devices, be they smartphones, tablets or computers, offer us the illusion of immunity.

Ask yourself this: how many times have you jumped on a self-righteous bandwagon when there’s been some sort of social justice issue becoming the flavour of the week? Have you stopped and thought about whether anything you’ve said or posted could possibly create serious backlash? You might lose your job or, even worse, tarnish your reputation. Once an event has gone viral on social media, it sticks. There’s no way to truly dislodge it, and its effects can ripple out and affect you for years afterwards.

Essentially, Sadleir and De Beer talk about how we communicate, and how our methods have changed so rapidly over the past few years. (They’ll even share some of those pesky abbreviations in a way that isn’t tl;dr.) Much of what they discuss is pretty darn serious, but they keep the tone of their cautionary tales light, and set out the sharing of the information in an often funny, tongue-in-cheek way that often had me laughing out loud. This is the sort of book you can buy your aged father or get your teenage daughter to read. And, in fact, I suggest you do. And omfg, please don’t ever joke on Twitter about planting a bomb at an airport. Just don’t go there.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Through the lens of Santu Mofokeng #photography

Santu Mofokeng’s series of photographs of black South Africans, Black Photo Album: Look at Me: 1890-1950 (1997) should be viewed within context in its role as the consolidation of an archive. As Mofokeng states: “These are images that urban black working- and middle-class families had commissioned, requested, or tacitly sanctioned. They are left behind by dead relatives, where they sometimes hang on obscure parlor walls in the townships. In some families they are coveted as treasures, displacing totems in discursive narratives about identity, lineage, and personality” (Cargo Collective). These images are drawn from a period which gave rise to apartheid and the disenfranchisement of black people in the country, as well as an erasure of their identity beyond the official, state-sanctioned information (Furstenberg 2002:60).

The images themselves are clearly posed, themselves creating an illusion through their careful poise and attention to detail, down to the choice in clothing and props selected, as expression of the subjects’ whims and, as Mofokeng states: “We see these images in the terms determined by the subjects themselves, for they have made them their own. They belong and circulate in the domain of the private. That is the position they occupied in the realm of the visual in the nineteenth century. It was never their intention to be hung in galleries as works of art” (Cargo Collective).

The people depicted in the photographs are ordinary, everyday people whose stories would have otherwise gone untold had the images not been preserved. The importance of these images is also worthwhile bearing into consideration, for as Mofokeng says, “Officially, black people were frequently depicted in the same visual language as the flora and fauna, represented as if in their natural habitat for the collector of natural history” (Cargo Collective). Compare these to photographs taken by William Roe (of which a selection is housed at the Graaff-Reinet Museum, Graaff-Reinet), and it becomes apparent that Mofokeng’s work fills a large gap in the photographic record that depicts black Africans in a similar fashion – snapshots of people’s lives that exist as a sort of time capsule that remembers where official history-makers of the time were apt to erase.

Something else that one must consider, specifically within the context of the time that this work was put together (1997) that a large body of the photography documenting black lives would have focused on events such as the violence in the townships. To bring out a body of work such as this, Mofokeng is showing a very different side to the public compared to what would, at the time, have been presented in the public eye, as stated by Furstenberg (2002:61): “Mofokeng positions his practice as an alternative to the collectivizing and dehumanizing operations of the archive and to the totalizing notions of identity constructed by the concepts of ‘Soweto’ and ‘townships’”.

The images themselves therefore offer viewers a degree of visual ambiguity precisely because they are taken out of context of the homes in which they initially hung. Their meaning, collected, changes, becoming rather a narrative discourse about a population segment, rather than purely portraits of family. Together, they establish a collective identity for those who were historically disenfranchised and disempowered due to apartheid. The images stand together to preserve memories that would have otherwise been swept under the rug or otherwise ignored, and also speak of a people who have made the trappings of European culture their own. By not being overtly political these images regrouped during recent years nonetheless communicate the effects of an oppressive regime without resorting to blatant imagery. Look at Me does exactly what the title suggests, offering the viewer the command to look, and not deny the past, and to remember and not be swept under the carpet.


Bibliography:
Furstenberg, L. 2002. Representing the Body Archivally in South African Photography. Art Journal 61(1), Spring:58-67.

Santu Mofokeng. Cargo Collective. September 12, 2015. <http://cargocollective.com/santumofokeng/black-photo-album>

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The photographic activism of Zanele Muholi #southafrica

South Africa’s liberal constitution dates back to 1996 when “South Africa became the first and only country in the world to explicitly incorporate the rights of lesbians and gay men into its constitution by prohibiting, among other things, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” (Gunkel 2009:3) and, while on paper, these words appear progressive when compared to other parts of the world where lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people suffer persecution, South Africa nonetheless remains a dangerous place for the LGBTI in an overwhelmingly hetero-normative society. This is borne out by the many violent crimes that have been perpetrated against those who are LGBTI, and perhaps especially the homophobic rape of black lesbians (Gunkel 2009:5).

Furthermore, when Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana (Cape Times, 2010) walked out of an exhibition where Zanele Muholi’s work, which illustrates black lesbians within an intimate setting, was being displayed, saying: “Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation-building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this. It was immoral, offensive and going against nation-building”, she sent a public message that echoed the nation’s entrenched homophobia among more conservative elements. Xingwana’s personal opinion stands in direct contradiction with the values laid down within the South African Constitution. That an individual, such as she, who maintains a socially influential position, could perpetuate such sentiments, illustrates the dichotomy between that which is prescribed and what is, ultimately, practised. It is within this context that photographer and visual activist Muholi’s artwork emerges, further explained when Makhubu writes: “The targeting of gay and lesbian individuals in townships is reflective of the aggressive denial of female power. Curative rape that is meant to ‘set [lesbians] straight’ shows that in society, lesbian women, gay men and transgender individuals are a threat to generally accepted yet iniquitous social constitutions (Makhubu 2012:521).

A selection of Muholi’s work on her page at Artsy, reveals a majority of black-and-white portraits of mostly black lesbians and individuals whose gender identity can be viewed as ambiguous, openly blending male and female attributes (Artsy 2015). Some, like the triptych Caitlin and I, Boston, USA, 2009 are in full colour. In most cases, focus is on the individual, with a simple or even abstract background. Where the subjects’ faces are visible, they are often staring directly, boldly towards the viewer, as if suggesting that they are present, undeniable, and very much part of society. Muholi herself states: “...it struck me that our struggle was in a way operating within a void, if people don’t see you, and by this I mean if they don’t connect to your personhood, they can easily violate you or look the other way if they are witnesses to violence against you” (Dlungwana 2015) and in that very manner, Muholi’s work aims to make visible that which has until quite recently, been considered taboo. Laws notwithstanding, a visual activist such as Muholi is a contributor in the on-going struggle to destigmatise and normalise the relationships and states of being of LGBTI people, to establish a shared narrative. In her work, as visual activist, Muholi stresses the importance of community, of collaboration: “Obviously, in telling any story you can’t just be the star of the tale, other people feature and their contribution and their own stories become part of the whole narrative, and so capturing images of lesbian and transgender men and women in South Africa as well as other parts of the continent and the Diaspora was an organic and practical development. You never act alone, not with things this important, you need community” (Dlungwana 2015).

Functions of photographs, for instance Caitlin and I, Boston, USA, 2009, serve to normalise LGBTI relationships within the public eye, especially within the context of a fine art gallery. We are faced with an image of two women who are intimately involved or who are, at least, at ease enough in each other’s presence to be naked, exposed. Commentary is not only delivered within the framework of gender, but also of race, of the coming together of black and white in a community post-apartheid and recovering from its restrictions on the mingling of different races. These women are free to love as they desire, and by their confidence jointly challenge anyone who would suggest otherwise. Their poses are relaxed, their expressions watchful, as if suggesting that they are comfortable being who they are and, as Muholi states, “people are seeing us, they are acknowledging that we exist, that we have a voice and will not be silenced and erased without a care” (Dlungwana 2015).

There is a frankness about Muholi’s work when viewing not only the postures of her subjects, but also in the way that she titles her photographs. Often, names are given and, as stated by Makhubu, “this provision of personal details asserts fearlessness, as if to declare: we are here, we are your neighbours, friends, your sons and daughters, your mentors and we will not budge – a sentiment that seems to permeate Muholi’s body of work” (Makhubu 2012:516). This removal of stigma, places the LGBTI individuals back in society, makes them an undeniable part of a community and family. Though atrocities have been committed against Muholi’s subjects, her work returns their dignity and works towards establishing a new legacy, a body of work that infiltrates the hetero-normative media that stands in contrast the assumption that “the stigmatising of queer sexuality is entwined with the assumption that people who are lesbian or gay are actually anatomically distinct” (Baderoon 2011, p. 391).

Muzi Khumalo IV, 2010, depicts a black youth who unashamedly makes eye contact with the viewer, staring directly at the lens. Careful grooming of his hair and the subtle use of make-up suggest the assimilation of traditionally feminine style. This blurring of the edges of traditional gender roles also suggests a fluidity of expression, and forces the viewer to ask, “Just what makes someone male/female?” Is it the clothes we wear? How we groom ourselves? By setting these blended expressions of presentations, we are no longer bound to tradition.

How viewers interpret Muholi’s work says much about their stances, as can be deduced from Xingwana’s response; however even such statements can open the door for further dialogue related to the subject. If a person feels discomforted by an image; if a person is forced to examine self to unpack why it is that an image causes a strong response, then Muholi has succeeded in her intention of initiating this discussion between the subject, who has allowed the photograph to be taken, and the viewer, who has entered the environment where the photograph has been displayed. In a sense, the photograph creates an unthreatening space in which this discussion can take place by this degree of separation. The photograph itself should also be viewed in a sense as a time capsule, a snapshot of a particular moment; and by equal measure its socio-historic context should be borne in mind while it is being viewed. Understandably, as time passes, and a larger body of works grows – and perhaps even references the work Muholi has accumulated – we may still see a shift in perception where LGBTI relationships have been normalised, where being presented with an interracial relationship in unabashed and honest nakedness will no longer result in a defamiliarisation for the viewer. Yet this can only occur if pioneering individuals such as Muholi create a visual foundation upon which others can build.

Bibliography:
Baderoon, G. 2011. “Gender within gender”: Zanele Muholi’s images of trans being and becoming. Feminist studies 37(2), Summer:390-416

Cape Times. Arts minister in lesbian art photo furore. IOL. n.p. 2010. September 10, 2015. <http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/arts-minister-in-lesbian-art-photo-furore-1.979074#.VfFjjyK0umx>

Dlungwana, P. Interview with Zanele Muholi. C&. n.p. 2015. September 10, 2015. <http://www.contemporaryand.com/blog/magazines/im-an-activist-first-being-a-photographer-allows-me-a-greater-and-more-influential-audience/>

Gunkel, H. 2009. Through the postcolonial eyes: images of gender and female sexuality in contemporary South Africa. Journal of Lesbian Studies. 13(1):77-87

Makhubu, N. 2012. Violence and the cultural logistics of pain: representations of sexuality in the work of Nicholas Hlobo and Zanele Muholi. Critical Arts: A South-North Journal of Cultural & Media Studies 25(4):504-524.

Zanele Muholi. Artsy. n.p. 2015. September 10, 2015. <https://www.artsy.net/artist/zanele-muholi/works>