Alice Mann (b. 1991) is a South African photographic artist who’s intimate portraiture essays explore notions of picture making as an act of collaboration. She aims to create images that empower her subjects and creates projects over extended periods, allowing for engaged and nuanced representations.
Her work has been exhibited internationally at numerous group shows at Red Hook Labs (Ney York), Unseen Photo Fair (Amsterdam), The National Portrait Gallery and Somerset House (London), Addis Foto Fest (Addis Ababa), the International Centre of Photography (New York) as well as at art fairs such as 1:54 London, and Paris Photo Fair. Alice Mann’s personal and commissioned work has been published internationally including The Gardian, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Artsy, The British Journal of Photography, and National Geographic.
Her award winning series Drummies exploring female drum majorette teams in South Africa, has been selected as a winner of the Lensculture emerging photographer prize (2018) and the PHMuseum Woman’s ‘New Generation’ prize for an emerging photographer (2018). Four images from the series were awarded first place at the prestigious Taylor Wessing portraiture prize (2018). Alice Mann was also recipient of the Grand Prix at the 34th edition of the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography (2019). Her first solo exhibition of the work was at the Kunsthal Rotterdam in late 2021, when she also released her first monograph, Drummies, with GOST Books.
The Night is Young
In South Africa the final year of high school is known as ‘matric’. For learners, the annual ‘matric ball’ carries huge significance and is a highly anticipated rite of passage. Despite South African students diverses cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, for them and their families alike, the ball is a very significant event. Learners will typically spend large amounts of time and money meticulously planning their outfits, getting suits and dresses custom made, and will spend hours on the day in preparation for the night. The ‘arrival’ to the balls are also highly anticipated, as this is the first opportunity to show off their carefully curated looks. At most schools, a red carpet will be laid out, roads are closed off, and crowds of spectators – relatives, friends, and even people from the surrounding neighborhoods – will line up to cheer on the students as they disembark from a range of vintage and customised cars.
The motif of a high school ball is typically linked to ‘American’ proms, which for most, is a theme that is instantly recognizable and identifiable. Inspired by the rich discourse of iconic American imagery, Alice Mann is intrigued by the way that these ideas play out out in a contemporary South African context. While the deep impact of Apartheid remains, in the country’s complex and visibly divided space there is something pure ad democratizing about these occasions. Over the course of this project, she has worked with a number of schools representating learners from very different backgrounds. At the many balls she has attended, the constant is the sense of energy and joy – these events are testament to the students achievement at realizing this final chapter in their high school careers and are celebrated accordingly. In an increasingly uncertain world, she hopes these images can function as a portrait of sougn South Africans tentative optimism. Alice Mann wants viewers to be reminded of that instant when one looks and feel its best, the energy is palpable and anything feels possible.