There are a few family portraits, but mostly the photographs show individuals or couples, some for official documents (ID cards or marriage certificates), some for an obviously special occasion. One glorious photo shows two women in traditional clothes, proudly holding what are presumably treasured possessions – a radio and a new handbag. This photo epitomises a feature of the collection: the juxtaposition of old and new, of modern and traditional, of rural and urban.
Many of the subjects are dressed in traditional outfits; in one photo a woman stands with a fly whisk to signify authority and gourds to signify motherhood. Other subjects proudly sport the latest fashion; a man, for instance, in jacket and bell-bottom trousers. Some have a mixture of the two, such as a man in a modern suit carrying an intricately beaded walking stick. One of the many interesting things about the photos is that we see the uncut versions, as it were, which clearly show the studio: many photos include the studio lights, others show the studio wall covered with photos behind a makeshift backcloth.
Looking at the photos, you have to rid your mind of cultural preconceptions of what a photo should look like. I like the idea of plain backgrounds with a patterned subject or vice versa, but in some of the photos there is a riot of patterns, a subject wearing a striped shirt against a striped background, with a diamond-patterned floor. Well, why not? I refocused and looked again and saw the way the faces are lit and the way the stances betray the character of the subject, the way a mood is captured, the feeling of how important the occasion is. The painted backgrounds might be a Roman column, the subject might be holding an artificial Christmas tree. Why not? Jacques Touselle’s photos were not taken to be in an exhibition: they are photos taken of people for those people to commemorate special events in their lives, and that is why I liked them so much.