02 Feb Salon de Coiffure | A Photo Series by Robert Nzaou-Kissolo
Robert Nzaou-Kissolo is a Congolese street photographer who lives between Cape Town and the Republic of Congo. When in Congo his photography is focussed on documenting the daily life on the streets of Pointe Noire. A variety of themes has emerged through this practice and further evolved into photo series which explore them individually.
‘Salon de Coiffure’ examines the beauty of the Congolese people contrasted with what they themselves perceive as beautiful. Robert says, “There is a hair salon to be found every 100 metres in the suburbs of Pointe Noire and the hand-painted boards advertising their services often represent images with a cultural ideal of beauty which is not in fact what the people themselves look like. Fake hair and light skin dominate many of the boards and no traditional clothes are represented, yet when one goes to the streets one finds people with a deep natural beauty, wearing traditional clothes and with a unique style and fashion sense.”
While focussed on this particular issue in these photographs, Robert enjoys capturing a range of subjects: people, street signs, advertising boards. The common denominator is that he finds a human interaction with or within the space. Photography was something Robert picked up later in life, having been born into a family of intellectuals who applauded academic results over artistic expression. When civil war broke out in Congo Brazzaville in 1998 all the educational institutions were closed. At the time Robert was at university and so ended up in South Africa as a student refugee studying marketing management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
French Hip hop was a big influence on Robert during the turbulent times in Congo and music became his first step to a creative career. While at university in Cape Town Robert became a rapper, beat-maker and later a Hip hop blogger. He says, “While running my Hip hop blog I discovered the power of images. I discovered that words alone couldn’t make the post unless there was a picture. I started going to Hip hop gigs with my small compact camera to get shots. I was shooting on automatic mode with no knowledge.”
When he eventually returned home to Congo for a family reunion in 2011, after 10 years in SA, he got his hands on his older brother’s Nikon D90, “I was amazed by it, during his stay I used his camera daily, I started exploring with portraits of family members and it was only a matter of time before the streets beckoned me. I started shooting street scenes and got into trouble a few times because people didn’t take kindly to being photographed.” Back in South Africa, Robert researched street photography and spent time watching Youtube tutorials and documentaries to learn as much as he could over and above shooting on the streets of Cape Town with a friend’s Canon G12.
As for what’s next, Robert says, “This last trip to Pointe Noire inspired [me] to spend more time there each year and I am looking forward to seeing what the streets hold for me in the coming years.”
Follow along at nzaourob.tumblr.com.