Last time we checked in with photographer Nina Manandhar she was digging through the cultural closets of Britain, looking at everything from bathing suits in the 50s to goth culture in the 90s. This time, she’s tripped over to West Africa to take in the sights of Dakar, Senegal’s capital and largest city, to document the city’s burgeoning street style. “I was invited to do a residency there, and was really struck by the style and the role this played in the construction of identity. From 'feug jaay' (second hand) slogan tees, expensive Nike trainers to faux Prada bags paired with traditional Boubous – style is a resource to reflect young people's mixed identities, along with their cities connections with the rest of the world,” she explains.
In what at first seems like a mix of boys only-type images, Manandhar explains this wasn’t the intention. On arrival, she quickly discovered it was the men who were more excited to show off their look, with the women taking a more shy approach to her lens. “The way young men dress usually reflects the status in society: 'Boy Town,' being someone who is indigenous to Dakar; 'Coming Town,' the rural migrant; or the 'Venant,' a returned migrant.” Although inspired by the studio portraiture of Malick Sidibe, and Seydou Keita whose studio work encapsulated the community, Manandhar preferred to shoot outside on the street, using sunlight and reflectors. Just in time for the re-launch of her photo website, Manandhar shares some photos from her trip as we catch up below.
Could you tell us about your new project Dakar Boys?
Nina Manandhar: This series looks at male style in Dakar, Senegal. Together with my residency host Les Petites Pierres, we set up the [street] studio in the Medina, a Dakar neighbourhood. At the end of the day we projected the images along with with other artists work, and had a party with a big sound system.
You’ve said before you enjoy the experience of documenting people’s lives as an ‘invisible’ lens. Why is it important to you to document things you wouldn't normally see as a detached observer?
Nina Manandhar: Sometimes when I'm doing documentary work I get a buzz from the immersive feeling, it's like being a spy almost. You forget yourself but feel strangely accepted into somebody else's world. That's why its important to me, but In a wider sense I guess its important because it creates an unexpected story and picture of real life sometimes.
How did the young men in Dakar react to having their photo taken?
Nina Manandhar: Most liked to be noticed for their style choices. But they also found it novel, the whole ‘street style photography' concept is less familiar to them.
You focus on documenting street style – how integral do you feel fashion trends are to people’s identity and culture?
Nina Manandhar: What's interesting about street style now is the way it's changing globally with the onset of the internet. Looking at their clothes, the boys I shot in Dakar, could be in San Francisco, Paris or London. Style represents these new hybrids identities, mixing up traditional influences with contemporary trends from around the globe, which are spreading faster as a result of social media.
In Dakar, there is a growing movement of young designers and creatives – Selly Raby Kane is probably the one people may have heard of.
I think this is reflective of a wider global trend of young people using enterprise, fashion and creativity as a tool for expression and community building, I guess it is more of an emerging market in Africa though.
What things have you noticed about street style while shooting around places like Dakar?
Nina Manandhar: I've shot a lot in Kathmandu, Nepal, and the main similarity I've noticed is a big trend for second hand clothes from the West being sold to developing countries – which is happening more and more because we are buying so many more clothes than we did 20 or so years ago. A third of all globally donated clothes end up in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Dakar, it's known as 'Fegge Jayy'. In Nigeria they are nick named 'bend down' boutiques because the clothes are laid out on the floor. In Ghana, 'Broni Wawu', which translates as 'Dead white mans clothes'. In Kathmandu lots of the labourers are big into WWF wrestling tees wheras in Dakar, T Shirts with neon Vinyl decals with the names of Sheikhs are more the thing.
Faux Apple, Facebook logos on clothing are popular in both places, having replaced Nike ticks as global emblems of aspiration.
How do you think your collections of real life documentary, including your work with What We Wore will function as a visual archive in the future?
Nina Manandhar: I would love for the What We Wore archive to become an ongoing resource, maybe look to partner up with a bigger institution to make this possible. The archive is still open for submissions and for people to add to, so hopefully it will expand, so in years to come its something that people can really make use of.
The future of the archive in general really interests me. Despite the fact that everything is digital, books are still really powerful, self publishing is more popular than ever for photographers. With the web enabling people to take the role of self appointed archivists, it's interesting to see more specialist sites popping up. Documentary acquires value with age. So with many photographs taken these days, it's hard to know which ones will filter through to becoming defining images of the time.
Follow Ashleigh Kane on Twitter here @ashleighkane