DJC Summer

Oath Volume 2 is on shelves now.

Newcomer independent publication Oath offers a curated view of contemporary African photography in a collectible magazine.

Oath hit magazine stands in 2020 filling a gap in the media and art markets for a contemporary African photography journal. It’s hard to fathom that a publication featuring the wealth of African photography talent didn’t exist, but despite the rich pool of contemporary photographers on the continent, the magazine’s editor Stephanie Blomkamp found it to be true. “Not just specifically photography coming from the continent but any photography magazines at all. I couldn’t get well-known titles from Europe and America here, they were difficult to important and nothing locally-made was available either,” she recalls. So, she took the leap and set in motion a magazine that answered the call. “The crux of Oath is a pledge to photography,” she says.

Despite the challenges that self-publishing a magazine in South Africa can pose, Oath launched its first volume to critical acclaim from titles such as Bubblegum Club, Vogue Italy and Monocle.com. Beyond its rank as the only African publication in its sector, the quality of Oath, from its design to its carefully curated content is outstanding, setting the bar high for the ailing print world and its starved readers. Content is sharply curated by Stephanie and includes moving works by established and emerging photographers spread across chapters ranging from group commissions and rising talent roundups to individual essays on some of the continent’s heavyweight image makers.

The second volume of Oath has just released under the banner of love and it explores the concept in its many shapes and forms, putting out a call for arms – outstretched wide.  We chatted to Stephanie to get the low-down.

Self-publishing an African photography journal from Cape Town is ambitious…tell us about the moment you took the plunge and what led up to it.

Doing anything in print is very ambitious. You have to have a burning passion for it because it’s difficult. Need a good reason to do so too, and I think celebrating photography is the ultimate one. I am South African; I am based in Cape Town and I am looking to showcase the talent I come across in my country and beyond. It’s a pure purpose driven mission. Some photographers know what they are doing and how to get their work out there which is great, others don’t and are seeking advice.  They are looking for and need a platform to gain visibility. Oath aims to fulfil this.

We are here to provide a space for photographers to tell their stories and share their work.  There are structural inadequacies, limited platforms and resources for photographers seeking to be fine art photographers in South Africa, and for me, the biggest thing missing to help change this is printed matter. Magazines help grow culture. I want to raise awareness and push photography. I want to see more home-grown photo books, more magazines focusing on the medium, and more galleries showcasing photography.

What kind of criterion do your photographers have to meet to resonate with the Oath audience?

I am looking for one thing: an emotional reaction to the work. I must feel something when I see a photograph.

How does the theme of love tie your second volume together? Can you list a few highlights in the new issue that readers might like?

Every project is tied to the theme. We investigate love on all levels: friendship, romantic, familial, new and lost loves. The whole publication reads like a love song. It has its chorus, a message we chant throughout calling all to ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, a deep article about lost love, and a pitch-perfect high point – a feature on one of my absolute favourites, ‘the photographer of happiness’ Malick Sidibe, from Mali.

Oath commissioned photographers for a specific group project. Asked 20 photographers in the height of the pandemic, half in Johannesburg and half in Cape Town, to respond to one of the harshest by-products of Covid-19, the weaponization of touch. I sent out a brief and each photographer contributed beautiful work focusing on intimacy through various approaches from documentary to highly styled submissions.  It’s exciting to have Oath-specific imagery in addition to the existing portfolios to highlight.

In all your experience with African photography, what does this continent have in the field that others don’t? 

New perspectives. Serious creativity. Experimental subject and forms. My eye is trained more towards the fine art realm of photography, and I want to push the medium as an art form. What’s interesting about the types of photographic “genres” coming from across the African continent is that lines are blurring. Fashion photography, documentary approaches and conceptual photography are being blended into something otherworldly and wonderful. It’s an exciting time.

The quality of the publication is next level; did you have a list of minimum requirements in its look and feel and what has the journey been like bringing those to life?

Yes, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted Oath to look and feel like. I am very specific in the type of paper we use and pay acute detail to the actual printing process. I love the look and feel of uncoated paper. I don’t use digital printing, opting instead for a traditional 4 ink processor so the ink doesn’t sit on the surface like a glossy publication but is heavily absorbed into the paper. The soft-touch laminate on the cover is very delicious, I am a very tactile person and the experience of reading something is important to me.  Oath is less of a magazine and more of a collectable coffee table book. I intend to make 10 in total. The content and the external feel and aesthetic need to wear well with time. Nothing is dated, the imagery in it is timeless and the clean-cut layout gives space for the photographs to speak for themselves.

In your search for up-and-coming African photography talent, who has surprised and thrilled you the most?

To be honest each photographer I publish thrills me equally. I genuinely get a bolt of delight when I curate Oath. Many images I sit with in my mind for a long while and it’s a joy to see them manifest in print months later and still feel the same kick. But, off the top of my head here are some that I am moved by.

There is a special South African photographer named Stefanie Langenhoven. I love her work. It is unique, raw, and just so goddam beautiful. There is one of a foot in green leaves, I am obsessed, it looks like it was plucked from John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia. Soulemayne Bachir Diaw’s work blew me out of the water when I first saw it. He runs a creative collective in Senegal called Ndokette Sessions and the collaborations produce very vibrant and sublime photographs.  I admire the work coming from West Africa right now.

Oath’s cover shoot was incredibly fun too – I worked with a highly talented South African photographer named Jesse Navarre Vos to bring my vision for it to life. It’s been great to celebrate Cape Town, specifically for Volume two as for the inaugural issue we did the cover shoot in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. 

Order yourself a copy of Oath Volume 2 by emailing orders@oathmag.com and their site for a list of global stockists. And do check out Oath’s pop-up exhibition and store at The House of Love, 70 Wale St Cape Town on until 22 May.

www.oathmag.com

Words and interview with Stephanie: Mila Crewe-Brown
Images: Courtesy of Oath, as credited in each caption
DJC Summer