It’s not too often in our incredibly faced paced worlds, where our attention spans have shrunk to almost inconceivable lows, that something appears in our inbox, or intervenes in our autopilot mode of scrolling through Facebook, and literally takes your breath away. Yet, it is exactly this type of rare, sublime beauty that the images by Jim Naughten of the Herero Tribe of Namibia induce. A snapshot into the almost satirical way the community has adapted the relics of their war-torn past, the series showcases the uncannily beautiful displays of the village. Set against the backdrop of the pristine transitions of a perfect blue sky, the desolate and arid sands appearing almost cloud like from beneath the subject’s decorated feet, the unnervingly beautiful Herero tribesmen and women are cloaked in a kaleidoscopic display of costumes from yesteryear. A country with a tumultuous and incredibly violent history, the paradoxical beauty of these images lies in the fact that these almost otherworldly depictions, are the result of the survivors of this savage past wearing what are essentially the emblems of this violence in their modern incarnations. Uniting the horrors of war and conflict with the (at face-value) incongruities of fashion and art, London based photographer Jim Naughten’s, images enigmatically draw on the at times inextinguishable divide between past and present, nature and craft and war and peace, to collapse assumptions about beauty and terror.
In the early 20th century the German’s colonised Namibia and with it, the nomadic tribes of Namibia started getting around in Victorian dresses and paramilitary costumes. When war broke out, tribal death rates climbed and identity became important. As did the very real issue of clothing. Garments were in short supply. As each Herero tribe member killed a German soldier, they’d strip the solder bare and wear the outfit themselves. Whilst the wars are now over, the tradition of wearing German military outfits and Victorian dresses is not. Adaptation has been the key to this adopted fashion longevity. What is most notable is that lending from other cultures has become a source of pride. Looking at the subjects in Naughten’s photographs you can see the self-respect and dignity in their eyes. Sure the outfits look crazy as hell and almost comical in their application. But there is nothing comical about the sincerity in which they wear them, or the crazy, artistic creativity they have used to modify them. And who doesn’t like a bit crazy? Especially when it’s carried off with dignity, honour and pride.