When Cramatte met Nzudie, the Yaoundé supermarket photographer, he was struck by the impact of a very ordinary activity. Their project gave rise to an attempt to account for a commercial activity with manifold ramifications. The photographer’s improbable studio was the aisles of the supermarket—for the important reason that it is a place of key social issues. The Yaoundé supermarket clearly sees itself as a place for people who have made it socially. Nzudie’s clients choose their favourite shelves carefully as a gauge of their uccess—their accession to the ranks of the consumer society. Proof of their status is the studied gaze of the photographer selling portraits—photographs whose repeated nature only increases the desire to appear in them; photographs which, because there are so many of them, add up to a vast sociological portrait. The infinite succession of portraits by Nzudie that Cramatte has chosen works the notion of a series dry. And when all artifice is down, it is photography itself which is on show. The alternative story it tells is that of a poor image in the shadow of a concrete jungle.
Jacob Nzudie photographs his clients in a supermarket in Cameroon just the way they want to be seen. The setting is significant; it is a supermarket for privileged customers, often Western expatriates, and not used by most Cameroonians. It is used by some, however, as a kind of dream machine. They imagine themselves as well-off, ‘sophisticated locals’, who can ignore the open-air markets with their lack of hygiene and exclusively local produce and the need to rub shoulders with their poorer compatriots. The supermarket feeds these people’s fantasies. Even though it was economic and professional necessity that led Nzudie to make the shop his studio, his photographic work has an underlying sense to it insofar as it exposes his compatriots’ ambiguous attitudes towards urbanity and the desire for social advancement in this extremely hierarchical society. Nzudie and Jean-Luc Cramatte met in Yaoundé in 2006. At the time Cramatte was working on a heritage project in the Bastos district; he was interested in the output of street photographers. There are hundreds of them in Yaoundé doing whatever customers ask forportraits, of course, but it might be to reproduce old photographs (there and then on the pavement), or pictures of life in the big-city cabarets, weddings or birthdays. Cramatte collects, sorts and reworks the unsold photos, adding colour or collages. Overheard remarks Cramatte has noted: ‘The photograph gets thrown away, it disappears the same day.’ ‘We make photo-taxis, we never know where they’re going to end up.’ ‘We’re the photographers of frivolity.’ This series, which is disturbing in its unrelenting fascination with works that have no future, echoes Cramatte’s other series in Poste mon amour (My Beloved Post-office), Lars Müller Publisher, 2008 and Bredzon Forever (Idpure, 2010).