Photo Essays

In Ethereal Images, an Artist Superimposes Herself on Old Photos of Her Mother

Lebohang Kganye’s images are a poignant celebration of her mother’s spirit.

Lebohang Kganye, “Tshimong ka hara toropo II” (A garden in town) (2013) (all images courtesy Afronova Gallery and the artist)

South African photographer Lebohang Kganye explores family and memory in her moving photo series Ke Lefa Laka: Her-story, completed between 2012 and 2013. In a conversation with Hyperallergic, she explains the genesis of the project after her mother’s death: “I began noticing that a lot of the clothes that she was wearing in these photographs from more than 20 or 30 years back still existed in her wardrobe and I could recognize the locations.” Kganye began to photograph herself in her mother’s clothes, recreating her poses and locations in family photos. She also digitally superimposed the images of herself onto the old photos, casting herself as her mother’s ethereal double.

Lebohang Kganye, “Setupung sa kwana hae II (The patio at home)” (2013)

Far from being eerie, the resulting images are a poignant celebration of her mother’s spirit. In many of the photos, Kganye’s mother is young, and her style and seemingly vivacious personality are foregrounded. The emotional logic behind Her-story is easily recognizable — the adult desire to know one’s parents as complete people, separate from their parenthood. I would imagine this yearning to be particularly acute after a parent’s passing. Kganye describes the process of creating Her-story as “therapeutic.”

Lebohang Kganye, “Kwana borayeng Phadima II” (At at a braai at Phadima) (2013)

Even without knowledge of the backstory, the photos demonstrate the power of recreation and doubling. The original pose, dress, and expression are magnified and enhanced by seeing them twice — a visual underscoring. Repetition enhances the playfulness of the pose in “Ke tsamaya masiu II” (2013), the stylishness of the stance in “Setupung sa kwana hae II” (2013), and each individual’s blending into the group in “Kwana borayeng Phadima II” (2013). Far from blurring the original image, its otherworldly recurrence refocuses the viewer’s eyes on the original.

Lebohang Kganye, “Ke bapala seyalemoya bosiu ka naeterese II” (I was playing the radio in my night dress) (2013)

Kganye’s other work further explores many of the themes in Her-story, including the companion series Heir-story, also from 2012–2013, which recreates scenes from her family’s history using photographic collages that mix images of Kganye and two-dimensional mannequins.

Lebohang Kganye, “Ka 2-phisi yaka e pinky II” (In my pink 2-piece outfit) (2013)
Lebohang Kganye, “Habo Patience ka bokhathe II” (At Patience’s house in my jeans) (2013)
Lebohang Kganye, “Ke tsamaya masiu II” (I was walking at night) (2013)

See more of Lebohang Kganye’s work on her website

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