June 15, 2010


Daniele Tamagni, from Gentlemen of Bacongo

 An inevitable side-effect of our culture's constant visual overload is that photographs have lost their sense of wonder; the world grows smaller, and we think that perhaps we've seen it all before - except, of course, we haven't. One can still sometimes recover the excitement which comes from stumbling across photographs that show us something truly new, astonishing, delightful or amazing. For me, the discovery of Daniele Tamagni's wonderful photographs of Congolese dandies, published last year as Gentlemen of Bacongo by Trolley Books, was the cause of precisely such delighted astonishment.

According to Paul Smith's introduction, "The Sapeurs today belong to 'La SAPE' (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes) - one of the world's most exclusive clubs. Members have their own code of honour, codes of professional conduct and strict notions of morality. It is a world within a world within a city. [...] Unlike some US hip-hop gangs who are dressed in similar fine threads, there is no bloodshed here - here your clothes do all the fighting for you, otherwise you are not fit to be called a Sapeur."

What comes across vividly is the sheer exuberance of these dedicated performance artists - performing above all for one another, that most unforgiving of audiences, but also and however fleetingly, in Tamagni's images, for us.
Daniele Tamagni, Gentlemen of Bacongo, Trolley Books, London 2009. ISBN 978-1-904563-83-9

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