Across 16 countries and 40 fashion weeks, photographer Per Anders Pettersson’s new book African Catwalk captures the vibrancy of Africa’s fashion week scene from every angle
Per-Anders Pettersson’s new book African Catwalk signified a creative sea change for the award-winning photographer. Born in Sweden but living in Cape Town, for many years his work focused on unflinching news reportage of famine, civil war and disease. Then in 2010 an assignment focussing on the burgeoning middle class in South Africa lead him to attending his first fashion week. “I was fascinated by the shows, so I continued for 20 more fashion weeks in South Africa and then about 20 more fashion weeks around Africa,” Pettersson explains. “I was amazed by the abundant talent and the hunger for fashion around Africa. There are so many people who work really hard to try make it in this very competitive environment.“
He became a fixture at shows across the continent including Ghana, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and was granted unprecedented access. One shot captures Johannesburg’s Nelson Mandela Bridge being turned into an al fresco runway for David Tlale while another spies VIPs sipping champagne during an after party in Lagos. The volume of catwalk, backstage and behind the scenes photographs documents the ascending African fashion industry like never before. Pettersson’s lens looks well beyond the clichés to dive deeply into this varied, colourful and celebratory movement.
“Focusing on creative talents and the rise of the African fashion industry - free of any prejudice or stereotype - becomes an important element in the process of the restoration of the erroneous perception of this amazing, multifaceted continent,” explains Vogue Italia's senior photo editor Alessia Glaviano in her introductory essay to the book. She’s joined by respected fashion strategist Allana Finley, head and founder of the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative Simone Cipriani, and famed designer Stella Jean; each of whom contribute essays framing the selection of images from four different perspectives.
“African designers have a choice of assimilating themselves to international norms or standing out, and African Catwalk shows how the continent’s designers choose to rage against the traditional statutes of the global fashion machine,” writes South Africa-based Finley. Jean, who ethically produces her collections in Haiti, Ghana, Kenya and Burkina Faso, agrees: “The north of the world shows a limited view because of its provincialism, since it reduces African culture to folkloric and transient events… Only through a new perspective we can relate equally without bias and a sense of superiority.”
Pettersson’s interest in the scene reflects his broader interest in the rapid growth of Africa’s creative industries today. “I want a wider audience to see and understand that what is happening has a lot to do with emerging economies in Africa. More cash, better educated people and more reach and availability of goods and the internet all go hand in hand in furthering fashion. The work shows a new side of Africa.”
Marking the launch of African Catwalk, Glaviano has curated a selection of Pettersson’s images to be shown at Milan’s Galleria Carla Sozzanion until 5 June 2016. The exhibition continues on to Galleri Kontrast in Stockholm from 28 August to 2 October.
African Catwalk is published on 6 June by Kehrer Verlag
Words Will Larnach-Jones
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