Santu Mofokeng 'Nousta, Rister and Noupa Mkansi at home in Dan, Tzaneen, their parents Richard and Onica are both dead' (from the series Child Headed Households) 2007 (copyright)
These are two of my favourite photographers in the current exhibition Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography on at the V&A museum in London. I am not a great fan of conceptual art in most cases, and like it least in the field of photography. There is at least one example in this exhibition, and a couple of photographers whose work did not engage me; but, most of the work is a straightforward but masterly and honest engagement with the subjects.
This might seem strange given that the figures in the top photo are running out of shot. The series showed lively 'stills' from life in the village, and felt like a true capture of a group of children. Mofokeng's picture above is a more conventional portrait shot, but for me spoke volumes without sentimentality not only about a dire situation but about the matter-of-fact dignity of just getting on with that situation.
This is the aspect of photography I enjoy the most: art without artifice. I don't mean that there is no technical tweaking (I have no idea if there was in these cases - and I don't mind if there was) - what I mean is there is no pseudo-intellectual jiggery pokery such as in conceptual art, where you have to read the label to have any idea of what is going on. I mean that there is no laboured sentimentality and attempted manipulation of emotional reaction. This is just looking your subjects in the eye and letting them look back at you and subsequent viewers.
There is also a further display of the work of one of the photographers in the exhibition: David Goldblatt: Lifetimes: Under Apartheid. It is shocking how quickly one can forget that the poor and oppressed under one regime can remain poor and oppressed even if the circumstances change. This is the other kind of photography which I really appreciate: bearing witness.
This is what art is about: providing an experience which makes one stop, think, feel, and then stays burned in the memory in some shape or form, continuing that influence.