Dear Daniele, We have and love your latest book, “Fashion Tribes”. You are also the Author of “Gentleman of Bacongo”, dedicated to The Sapeurs of Congo.
We wanted to learn more about your work with the Fashion Subcultures, especially those based in Africa.
Daniele Tamagni, you are an Art Historian by training, how did your current career of Photographer start?
My career as photographer started around 2004. I was still working on history of art, cataloguing and researching, but gradually I realized I wanted to dedicate myself full time to photography. Transform a passion, a hobby in a job is not easy but I think photography was and is the medium I prefer, to communicate to people.
My photography is about people not still life, paintings or Architecture so I totally changed; but said this, I think studying Art for years helped with constructing a picture because I always have in my mind composition, light, colours etc. that remind me of paintings even if it is for street photography or reportage. The esthetic plays an important role in my photography style.
You started photographing “The Sapeurs” before they became known internationally, can you tell us how you discovered them and what attracted you to them?
I was in Brazzaville in 2007 while doing different reportages for ‘Africa’ magazine. One night I saw these elegant Dandies during Papa Wemba’s concert. Their style was unique and so unusual compared to other Congolese: a western neo-colonial style that reminded me of the past; at the same time so provocative and creative. I really wanted to know more about them so I researched them when I was back in Europe and I decided to go deeper, going back, meeting them and doing a story.
It was 2008 when I decided I have enough documented for the book; of course I could never have imagined the success of this project that led them to be known internationally. “Gentlemen of Bacongo” was published in 2009.
The fashion subcultures featured in your book defend fiercely their individuality. How are they perceived in a wider culture that can put the emphasis on group identity and where the pressure to conform can still be difficult to resist?
It is true that they defend their individuality. They ask for respect and stand out to defend their style and creativity but also their sense of belonging to a community. At the same time, what we can call subculture or counter-culture can influence the mainstream culture. I am talking about sapeurs who influenced designers like Paul Smith or pop star singers like Solange Knowles. Also let’s think about the punk movement born as a rebellion movement and now is still so alive and established in the world of fashion.
What is the level of influence these groups have on their societies? Especially on the new generations?
I think the impact is very strong. The sapeurs for example have been invited to talk to young generations because of their example of elegant and stylish man not just for the outfit but also for the good manner, the behaviour and the moral code that a real sapeur must have together with the “allure”.
Your work has given “The Sapeur” a new level of exposure – especially with the video with Solange Knowles. How has this new notoriety impacted their lives? Are they moving from the fringe to become mainstream?
Not yet unfortunately, recently a well-known brand, Guinness, did a campaign with the sapeurs. I really hope these occasions can help sapeurs financially. But they are still episodic and not enough to change their lives.
Discover the work of Daniel Tamagni and James Barnor at the October Gallery in London. Their joint exhibition runs from 8th to 30th of September 2016.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.