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The Uncanny

The Uncanny

by Léonard Pongo

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The Uncanny by Belgian-Congolese photographer Léonard Pongo is a visual interpretation of his experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following friends and family in the country, Pongo became immersed in their vision. He let them decide what he should witness as he attempted to understand the place, reconnect with his heritage and reconcile his preconceptions with realities.  

Please be aware that this book contains graphic imagery.

More about this book

In 2011, Pongo travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to photograph the country’s general election and its impact on society. He soon became aware of his inability to define which stories mattered, and to faithfully report on the overwhelming experience he went through. As his awareness of this increased, he came to terms with the limits of photography to show ‘the truth’ as well as his own limitations in accessing and analysing the environment, bias, and stereotypes. The project evolved into the photographs which form his first book The Uncanny.

The black and white photographs in the book show an often dream-like and abstract journey through landscapes, domestic interiors, streets, dance halls and churches. Disorientating perspectives and use of long exposures give the impression of movement and figures disappearing out of the frame. A lack of formal narrative lends a feeling of instability and occasional threat. Portraits of both strangers and friends show those aware and accepting of Pongo’s presence—some disregarding the camera and others requesting its presence. Devoid of colour, night and day are hard to differentiate in this vision in which the religious, spiritual and the secular are intertwined with the uncanny. Rather than documenting a country, Pongo has attempted to document his personal experience of the country, translating the vibrant, overwhelming and ungraspable into

‘No image has a title. We dispense with the reference and with any possible language (French, Lingala, English) that might be called upon because there are no routes, no passages. There are no itineraries to be followed that would indicate what to see, and where to look. Wrong questions collapse—questions trying to unmask the origin (Where do you come from?), impose authority (Who the hell are you to...?), or hammer in the nail of guilt (You shouldn’t
shouldn’t...look). Because the pictures stubbornly refuse to show. They are not about identity
politics, distributing places, or fixing the lines that the eye must follow. The question which seems
unavoidable is therefore undermined—that of the point of view’.
Nadia Yala Kisukidi

Published August 2023
165 x 218 mm
192pp, 111 images
Hardback, clothbound cover
ISBN 978-1-910401-72-9

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  • Photographer and visual artist Léonard Pongo was born in Liège in 1988 and grew up in Belgium. His predominantly long-term projects have been exhibited internationally. The Uncanny has been exhibited at Lagos Photo Festival; Editions POPCAP at Berlin Gallery Week; Templehof Airport, Berlin; Beijing Photo Biennial; CAFA Art Museum, China;  Free University Brussels and at Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Primordial Earth was shown at the Lubumbashi Biennale, the Rencontres de Bamako (where it received the Prix de l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie), Tate Modern in London, UK and at the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts, his first solo exhibition in Belgium. He was a resident to the Blackrock residency initiated by Kehinde Whiley and teaches Documentary Photography at the Kinshasa Academy of Fine Arts (ABA).