JTF (just the facts): Published in 2016 by Edition Patrick Frey (here). Softcover, 128 pages, with 66 color and black and white photographs. The photographs were taken between October 2012 and January 2014. Includes an essay by David Cecil. In an edition of 800 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: The Italian photographer Michele Sibiloni moved to East Africa about six years ago. Working as a photojournalist, he had covered several major events including the uprisings during the Arab Spring and the independence of South Sudan for major media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and the Wall Street Journal. But at some point Sibiloni needed a break from his photojournalistic work, and decided to start a personal project documenting a slice of life in Uganda that had impressed him. His quest for a creative interruption turned into long-term project and a recently published photobook.
Sibiloni turned his camera to Kabalagala, Kampala’s party district, also often described as “Tijuana on acid”. His raw and often awkward images capture the dynamic after-work moments of people who visit these streets of pleasure and twinkling lights. As he was working on the project, it was important for him to challenge existing stereotypes: “Before coming to Uganda, I didn’t know much about the place. You have a distorted perception about Africa in general, because the little we know comes from the news and the news is so often related to bad things happening.”
Sibiloni’s almost surreal chronicles of Kampala’s vibrant nightlife seethe with energy. The book’s title is connected to one of his subjects – a girl with a tattoo on her leg reading “fuck it”. To Sibiloni, the irreverent message of the tattoo seemed to reflect the prevailing attitude of people in Uganda have when they go out – to leave all their responsibilities and problems behind, to just say “fuck it”, and to live and enjoy the moment. “The thing that impressed me was the amount of nightlife, not just in bars and clubs but on the street. People are always going somewhere. The city doesn’t stop”, he said in an interview.
Fuck It is a physically heavy book, printed on glossy paper, with most of the images in full bleed. Its cover flaps open into a juicy image of a hand with long colorful nails and a butterfly ring. The images are presented without captions or context, immersing us into a rough and enigmatic atmosphere of dynamic nightlife. We are not entirely sure what is going on, or who these people are, but we can sense the vibrancy of the night. As David Cecil notes in his introduction, the book presents a diverse mix of people: “streetwalkers, good time girls, vagabonds, village fools, rastas, pimps, drunken expats, drunken locals, drunken everybody, underpaid guards, overworked bouncers, old-timers, orphans, urchins, beggars, hoodlums, hustlers, grasshopper vendors, all kinds of cops, NGO workers and back-alley exorcists”.
The first photograph in the book depicts a night guard looking back at us, wearing a long jacket and a yellow hat, standing next to a white fence, holding a bow and arrow; the image sets the stage for the wild and the unexpected. A few spreads forward, there is a photo taken in a crowded bar. At first we see the interior – a poster of Chris Brown, another reading “Kampala’s No. 1 BAR”, and a red and white curtain in the back all adding to the atmosphere of the place; people in the crowded space are talking and drinking, and there is one woman who looks straight back in the camera, seeming to step out of the chaos to hold our attention.
Snapshot scenes like these from this extravaganza of nightlife are mixed with portraits of various people Sibiloni encountered along the way. One image depicts a young local man in a baggy red jacket and gold tie seated on a chair – he holds money in his hands and seems focused and in control. There is also a shot of a woman smoking lavishly; as part of her face is mysteriously covered by a finger in the frame, her shiny excessive jewelry and long pink nails seem magnetic. Another photograph captures three girls on white plastic chairs as they lean on each other, passed out and exhausted after the party. As David Cecil notes in the introduction “the images in this book will elicit a range of reactions: pity, disgust, uncertainty, titillation”, and our individual readings of these stories will likely depend on our own experiences of places like these. The book is a parade of loose debauchery – people drinking alcohol, chatting, smoking cigarettes, heading on a motorcycle to the next destination, wildly dancing, and at the end, falling asleep without much regard for their surroundings.
Sibiloni’s photobook shows us a side of life in Uganda that rarely surfaces in the news coverage, and its frenetic and expressive images of Kampala’s social scene have a raw roughness that goes further than easy going fun. Fuck It settles into a thumping mood of heavy-lidded disregard, where everyday ambivalence is met by aggressively hard partying. It’s a small self sufficient project that has been smartly presented, a slice of a world blinded by flash lit glare.
Collector’s POV: Michele Sibiloni does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above).