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The Sweating Subject



The Sweating Subject is a series of group portraits of tribal chiefs and their courts. All of the group portraits also include Jan Banning, the photographer. All the subjects are members of the Gonja or Dagomba tribes in the Northern Territories of Ghana, except for Jan, the artist. He is from the Netherlands. He travelled to Ghana on an assignment to photograph the fusion of tradition and modernity and was invited by the chiefs to have his photo taken with them. Much has been said and written about the power of the photographer who travels the world and records 'the other'. In this case, however, though the camera position, lighting and other aesthetic and technical details were determined by Jan, he is just as much an object as all the other people portrayed. These images are 'selfies' without self-determination: in the end it was his driver or one of the interpreters who decided when to press the button. And though Jan formally remained 'the photographer', he was as expectant and powerless as everyone else at the decisive moment.

The Sweating Subject recalls colonial photography in which we see a white man pose as the big boss together with his coloured 'subjects'. But this white man is a lot less imposing as he sits in the midst of the chiefs and their courtiers who, despite their heavy and warm ceremonial clothes, look proud, dignified and completely in their element. In fact, he looks like a stranger, misplaced and perspiring heavily, completely unsuited to the climate and at the prevailing circumstances.
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