“The Uncanny,” a body of work created by Belgian-Congolese photographer Léonard Pongo, serves as a visual representation of his encounters in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While accompanying friends and family within the country, Pongo fully immersed himself in their perspective. He relinquished control over what he should witness, seeking to comprehend the place, reconnect with his heritage, and reconcile his preconceived notions with the stark realities he encountered.
In 2011, Pongo embarked on a journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo to document the nation’s general election and its societal ramifications. Quickly, he grappled with the challenge of determining which stories held significance and accurately conveying the overwhelming experiences he underwent. Increasingly, he recognized the limitations of photography in portraying ‘the truth’ and his own constraints in comprehending and analyzing the environment, biases, and stereotypes. The project eventually transformed into the collection of photographs that comprises his debut book, “The Uncanny.”
The monochromatic images within the book take viewers on a surreal and abstract voyage through various landscapes, household interiors, streets, dance venues, and churches. Disorienting perspectives and the use of extended exposure times create the illusion of motion, with figures frequently fading out of the frame. The absence of a formal narrative imparts a sense of instability and occasional unease. Portraits of both unfamiliar faces and acquaintances depict individuals who are cognizant of Pongo’s presence, some disregarding the camera while others welcome its presence. Stripped of color, day and night become indistinguishable in this portrayal where the religious, spiritual, and the secular intermingle with the mysterious and eerie. Rather than documenting the country itself, Pongo endeavors to document his personal encounter with the nation, translating the vibrant, overwhelming, and elusive into visual imagery.
About the Author
Photographer and visual artist Léonard Pongo was born in Liège in 1988 and grew up in Belgium. His predominantly long-term projects have been exhibited internationally. The Uncanny has been exhibited at Lagos Photo Festival; Editions POPCAP at Berlin Gallery Week; Templehof Airport, Berlin; Beijing Photo Biennial; CAFA Art Museum, China; Free University Brussels and at Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Primordial Earth was shown at the Lubumbashi Biennale, the Rencontres de Bamako (where it received the Prix de l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie), Tate Modern in London, UK and at the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts, his first solo exhibition in Belgium. He was a resident to the Blackrock residency initiated by Kehinde Whiley and teaches Documentary Photography at the Kinshasa Academy of Fine Arts (ABA).