When Tears Don’t Matter
Following Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain (Steidl, 2017), which documents the seared landscapes of the Namib Desert and was shortlisted for the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis 18|19, Margaret Courtney-Clarke now turns her lens to the bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. The inspiration for When Tears Don’t Matter comes, in part, from her grandfather’s photographs of almost a century earlier during his mandate as Secretary for South West Africa (now Namibia), some of which are reproduced in this book. 10,000 kilometers of formidable terrain takes Courtney-Clarke across remote bushveld, sand and salt pans to drought-stricken conservancies, tenuous farming communities that function as holding tanks for “inconvenient indigenes,” “cultural villages” and peri-urban squatments, as far east as she could travel through the Namibian Kalahari Desert.
Largely invisible to the outside world, the bushmen today are dispossessed of their land: a “shadow people” sidelined by officialdom, economic inequity and outdated mythologies which present them as living in an “uncontaminated” state. In this complex country where notions of truth and objectivity (and whiteness) are constantly explored, the battle against disenfranchisement is largely unsuccessful. Courtney-Clarke’s photographs lie at the crossroads between documentary and activism, and their basis is an unfailing empathy with her subjects—in her words: “What is crucial in this work is to give place to a voice in search of a listener.”