A famous American photographer Robert Frank once said “there is one thing a photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.’’ And this is evident in the art photography that Teddy Mitchener does.
For Teddy, photography is one of the many mediums he uses to express his art. Art photography is a skilled craft, he says, and with his background in visual arts, it was easy for him to blend the two talents.
In his latest work titled “Disappearing Africa” that is currently being exhibited in Dubai, he uses masks to tell the story of how Africa is losing its heritage.
“The story behind this particular concept is that Africa is slowly fading away, back in the US when I was living there, I used to visit my friends’ houses and I would see beautiful African sculptures,” he says.
But when he visited a sculptor in Tanzania and asked him if people still follow their African traditions, he realised that these days not many are passing down the craft.
He knew he had to do something about it through his work. In the photos, one side of the mask is kind of broken or deteriorating.
This, he says, represents the disappearing culture. Hence trying to pass this technique of sculpting to the young generation is difficult.
“Some of the masks are actual people whom I have painted. And that is just a way of interpreting the art by giving it life through people,” he says.
His other iconic work includes the interpretation of the famous fantasy film “Alice in Wonderland” with Teddy’s version displaying Alice in Africa.
“Alice in Africa is my take of the iconic fable and what it would look like told from an African perspective. Africans need to see themselves with eyes of wonder; there is a lot of wonder and beauty all around us we just need to be willing to see it,” he says. He has done another project “Broken Doll” where he uses make-up and body paint to make models look like dolls. He says the broken doll was inspired by the #MeToo movement. The images were inspired by what he saw as violence and gender bias against women.
From a young age, Teddy says he knew he wanted to study art. He enrolled at the Duke Ellington School of Arts in Washington DC.
Also he says taking enough time to finish a project and not rushing to release a collection also helped him create masterpieces. When he is not creating dramatic scenes as an art photographer, he works on commercial advertisements. He has worked with Heineken, Safaricom among others.
He says since he studied art in school, he self-taught himself photography.
“I took one semester of photography and obviously that is not good enough and you know back in the day there was no Photoshop it was the dark room. But I won awards for some of my black and white pictures,” he says, adding that he is looking to create more artistic work that would remain in the art and history books.