Her photographs have been published in the world’s fashion magazines but Namsa Leuba hasn’t just travelled the fashion sphere.
Namsa Leuba is the half Swiss, half African photographer who studied in France before taking her talents across to Guinea for perhaps her most revered work yet in the series, Ya Kala Ben. Sometimes sacrificing her safety when it comes to exploring her subjects, Namsa puts her all into the documentary style imagery that gives the viewer an insight into the rituals and traditions of a tribe we probably never would have known existed. After being one of only ten photographers chosen for the Hyeres Festival 2012, for which i-D Founder and Creative Director Terry Jones was on the judging panel, Namsa was selected by Swiss publishing house Sandmeier as their representative to produce a book in collaboration with Goooodie. The Chinese publishing house chose the similarly candid documenter Zhang Kechun to be published alongside Namsa in the new edition, Interesctions. Here, Namsa lays down her camera and stays in one place long enough to chat to i-D online about her new publication whilst we flick though the beautifully bound book of pictures.
What was it like growing up in Switzerland? I have a lot of good memories. All my childhood, I grew up in a small village. It was really great because we could run free and build tree houses in the forest as we wanted and after, go swimming in the lake or horse riding. I had more freedom than if I had lived in a city. After, I moved to a big urban area to keep on my studies. It was exciting to meet new people and to learn a different way to live.
Has your African heritage played a big part in your life? This trip was an opportunity to reconnect with some of my roots. I have always wanted to explore and share this other culture that is part of me. And I knew that the best way to do so was to visit the village founded by my great grandfather. This pilgrimage to the land of some of my ancestors inevitably and immediately raised the sensitive question of “origin” or “origins”. Mine, that of my parents, of others (my subjects) and of my approach.
Tell us a bit about your experiences with the Guineans in 2011. All I knew before the trip was that my mother is Muslim and that my father is a protestant, although I’ve not been baptised. The religious aspect of my mother’s country became very prominent. I discovered an animist side to the Guinean culture which is based on people’s respect for it. I had been exposed to the supernatural part of Guinea ever since I was a child. I had visited ‘marabouts’ and this time around took part in many ceremonies and rituals. It was important for me to do this work because it enabled me to be more aware of the intricacy and the existence of a parallel world, that of spirits. In Guinea, the pace at which people got things done surprised me. Everything took longer. I found myself wasting a day waiting for people to show up. So, I took off my watch to be able to relate. I therefore learned how to work at the Guinean pace.
What do you hope to achieve during your time in South Africa in 2014? At the beginning of 2014 I will be in South Africa for six months. At this time I will keep up my projects that I have already in my mind. There are so many ideas. I am very enthusiastic for the next projects.
What’s the most interesting place you’ve travelled to for work? It was in Guinea. I constantly question myself – which is very challenging. It is like capturing an image. I travel from a spiritual ground to get to the plasticity. Spirituality is tradition; plasticity is modernism.
How does fashion photography fit in with your usual documentary style? I like doing fashion projects with fine art direction and to have a fashion aesthetic. I always strive to do something fresh.
How did it feel to be shortlisted for the Hyeres Festival of Fashion and Photography? I was very proud of myself. It was such an amazing experience to be there.
Why do you think your and Zhang Kechun’s photography complement each other? We work in a documentary way but differ strongly in the way we approach our subject. I intervene and sometimes even provoke hard reactions whilst Kechun holds himself back.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m working on flags of sacrifices, Guinean and Swiss flags in New York where I am living now. You will see more soon…
Text: Felicity Kinsella
Photography: Namsa Leuba and Zhang Kechun