Sojourns in occupied territory:

works by Brent Meistre and Jo Ractliffe

  • Bronwyn Law-Viljoen
Keywords: Landscape, South African photography


Landscape has often functioned as a threshold, a zone in which the similarities and differences between painting and photography are evident. At the same time, it has served as the barometer of photography’s constantly shifting place in the art-historical canon; a measure of its ability, on the one hand, to be used as document and, on the other, to be deployed in the service of a conceptual approach to art-making.

South African photography has been explored (and over-explored) as a predominantly documentary form. However, in recent years, it has departed significantly from this trajectory. In this article, I present selected examples of photographic and video works by Brent Meistre and Jo Ractliffe, proposing that these works occupy a liminal zone in the field of South African photography, and, at the same time, signal towards photography as a documentary vehicle and as a conceptual tool. In her recent book and exhibition, As terras do fim do mundo (2009-2010), Ractliffe deploys the language of documentary, and specifically the genres of landscape and war photography, in order to present a project in which she interrogates assumptions about these two fields. In his Sojourn series, as well as in a number of video works, Meistre presents the landscape as both empty and suggestive, a site for performances that write the artist into the landscape in both humorous and deeply provocative ways.