Hailing from a background in fashion photography, Paris-based-Johannesburg-born
photographer and video director Chris Saunders approaches his projects from the
standpoint of a visual storyteller. His documentary work investigates the people and
environments found in his images, particularly subcultures, local culture crews and artists.
In 2013 he began the documentation and ongoing collaboration with Impilo Mapantsula to create a documentation and visual history of the formidable Johannesburg born and internationally recognised dance culture ‘Pantsula’. The series has been exhibited globally with a solo exhibition at the UCLA Fowler Museum and in other shows at the MOMA in NYC and the Troppen Museum in Amsterdam. The final intention is to publish a book with the images and texts created during the project.
For 30 years, beginning in the 1980s, the South African dance pantsula has grown in popularity in the townships surrounding Johannesburg, it's become a mainstay of South Africa’s largest metropolis and now a permanent part of the cultural fabric of the country itself. The broader project is the result of 6 years of collective and collaborative research, led by Daniela Goeller, Chris Saunders, and Sicelo Xaba, with the support of the dance organisation Impilo Mapantsula. Faced with the fundamental lack of documentation on South African black urban culture, which is the unfortunate consequence of South Africa’s legacy of colonialism and apartheid, we set out in 2013 to document current pantsula crews in the townships around Johannesburg. It is the first time in history that pantsula is recorded and its history investigated. The primary focus of the project and future book lies in the movement, the style, and the fashion of pantsula.
Chris Saunders is using photography as a tool to communicate with the dancers and develop the images together with them. The aim was to create pictures which “tell” the dance and show both the intricacies of the movements and how the dance form is embedded within the culture, fashion and the township environment.