Cityscapes + Birdmen
31 January 2013 . Written by João Bento
The photobook ‘Cityscapes + Birdmen’ by Jacquie Maria Wessels was published by Voetnoot in 2010. The book presents a large collection of colour photographs, 160 in total. As the title of the book suggests, the work is about (bird)men and city streets, in this case in the former Dutch colony of Suriname. Photos of streets alternate with photographs of men, creating a layered portrait of Suriname’s culture and society.
The cityscapes were made in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. The photographs show the walls of all sorts of buildings decorated with typical, hand-painted advertisements. The men were photographed both in Suriname and in The Netherlands where many Surinamese now live. These men are involved in songbird competitions known as Caged Bird, the most popular sport in Suriname.
Jacquie Maria Wessels’ photographs are serene. She favours formal portraiture made with daylight and indirect flashlight. The landscape shots mimic that process. Some images are colourful, specially those showing the advertisements, but not intense. There is an unexpected symbiotic relationship between the portraits and the landscapes and, purely on a visual level, it is the single photographic strategy that makes the two subjects sit together.
One of the aspects that got our attention was the presence of motorized vehicles in many of the photographs, specially in the portraits of the birdmen. Clearly these men might travel some distances to get to the competitions, so they arrive in an assortment of vehicles – cars, trucks and small engine bikes. Through Wessel’s images we can see that although the cars are of some importance, the pride they have in their vehicles does not reflect the immense pride that they have in their birds.
Jacquie Maria Wessels’ ‘Cityscapes + Birdmen’ can be consulted at Fauna & Flora Library: www.faunaandflora.org/library/