Photographer Jacob Nzudie was born in Baleng, Cameroon in 1964. Introduced to photography as a teenager when his parents gave him a 35 mm camera in golden plastic, he instantly became infatuated with documenting his distinct observations - a self-proclaimed ‘curious teenager’ only interested in retaining the purest, simplest and genuine depictions of families, of real people, of his community – it is that which invigorated his skill and soul the most.
Nzudie took influence from the traditional practices of the travelling photographer, his studio being the street, the home, the desired environment of the subject. Yet, Nzudie documented a shift in culture, one of a seismic scale that came with a want for new monetary success. Late 1998 saw the welcoming of the era of the "yor" and "yoryette" - the young unreservedly obsessed with following trends and borrowing English and French reality TV vernacular. The young generation of Africa were seeking the wealth of Europe, America, the West; the proof of success being capitalist joy – consumption. No longer content with the market, the street vendor, the discounts and deals of their parents’ generation, the young of Yaoundé, Cameroons capital, preferred and reveled in demonstration. A demonstration of wealth in every form – from the garments on the body, to the garnish on the plate. A presentation, an exhibition serving as proof of a different and evolving time. A sociological testimony of climbing the class ladder within a community that had not too long ago felt the downfall of the West African CFA franc in 1994 – it became the time for the inauguration of the middle class.
Alongside the commissioning of Jean-Luc Cramatte, a Swiss photographer and editor with an extensive interest in heritage projects, Nzudie envisaged his Supermarché series and its ensuing photography book. Supermarché was exhibited in 2011 at the Grande Halle, Parc des Ateliers, France for the Rencontres d'Arles, the renowned annual photography festival.
The full-length portraits are simple, the rainbow spectrum of colour over-exposing a pseudo glamour, the shine of florescent artificial lighting on the foreheads of shoppers. But this false glee is genuine, the pride of Nzudie’s subjects’ stances cannot be contained in the isles of the supermarket. Artificial glory is the goal, packaged happiness the craving. His subjects are not scouted from the streets, they are the people in their element, the shoppers who came to buy, to consume. They are the clients of the big brands and the comfort of these household western labels are read on the expressions of grinning suited man and tinted sun-glassed woman. The repetitive formatting and positioning within the series reinforce the longing for uniformity of the all-star America Dream, the Supermarché series reminiscent of a catalogue of newfound urbanism - the excitement of the Cameroonian young as they revel in a new fantasy. Nzudie currently lives and works in Fribourg, Switzerland and in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Images courtesy of JACOB NZUDIÉ
words HELENE KLEIH
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