Text by Nikola Lorenzin
All Images © Dani Pujalte
Prai$e the Lord is the new photobook by Barcelona-based photographer Dani Pujalte, published by Witty Books in 2022.
Dani Pujalte’s practice is almost inseparable from his life experience: before being a professional means, images always worked as a natural bridge between him, his family and friends. Free from thematic and stylistic hierarchies, Dani’s projects are always born from something he deeply connects with. That is what happened in 2012 on a beach in Sitges, next to Barcelona, when he met Matar, a Senegalese boy about his age. His mother started helping Matar out in order for him to get his papers done and over the years they strengthened their relationship, until Dakar became a place that Dani would regularly visit. It is in this new context that Prai$e the Lord was born.
“I used to spend the afternoons on the rooftop of some friends in the Point E neighborhood during Ramadan, in 2017. They were about to start college and we would hang out listening to rap and smoking weed at sunset. One of those evenings our phone battery ran out and the guys started singing poetry and verses from the Quran, introducing me to the figure of Cheick Amadou Bamba. That was when the project started, when I realized that although we shared the same musical references, classic trends of a globalized world, they held a step above these references a spiritual leader who had died in 1927.”
The spiritual leader Dani talks about is Amadou Bamba, founder of Mouridism, an order of Sufi Islam which was born in Senegal but spread beyond its borders. Only one image of Bamba exists and its author remains unknown. It is this lack of ownership that triggered a wild and uncontrolled diffusion of Amadou Bamba’s portrait, which over the years has been reproduced on every possible surface. It can be found on the side window of a taxi, as a graffiti on a wall, tattooed on the arm of a person, or on any kind of commercial item, ending up with the ad of a phone recharge company on a truck that Dani photographed in front of the mosque where Bamba is buried.
This last image perfectly synthesizes the core concept of Prai$e the Lord: the appropriation of spirituality by capitalism and the clash/coexistence of these two spheres. With a photography at the intersection between fashion and documentary, Dani guides us through a global city in which people seem to be posing for a commercial while brand logos occupy the urban landscape in an even more invasive way than Bamba’s portrait does, ultimately blurring the line between which cult people are following. “I made these portraits in the same way I shoot fashion and advertising for brands in Barcelona. I thought it was interesting to make them appear as if they could be taken anywhere else, supporting the idea that we live in a global world dominated by brands and aesthetics” says Dani, adding that this helped him move away from the white gaze of the European photographer in Africa.
The clash between capitalism and spirituality reaches its climax when the fight between two wrestlers on the beach ends up with a broken engine bleeding on the streets of Dakar, in which the contrast is renewed and strengthened into that between body and technology. The last pages of the book softly sink into a suspended decadence and lead us to the resigned pervasiveness of a sign which infinitely points at itself, absorbing into this vicious circle everything that surrounds it.
Dani’s previous book, Good Luck with the Future, co-authored with Rita Puig-Serra Costa, was a self-published project distributed in an edition of 500 copies. Not a small print to manage as a first publication. Although working with Tommaso Parrillo, founder of Witty Books
, has been vital for his contribution throughout the editing process, the biggest difference for Dani lays in the network that a publishing house has: “Witty Books is a publishing house with 10 years of experience and a good relationship with local and international independent bookstores, which allows for a good distribution of the book. The truth is that for me the worst part of self-publishing is moving the book once it’s published, it’s the least fun part.” The book, crafted in a dimension that honors the 6×7 medium format in which the images have been taken, showcases a cover that welcomes with natural coherency the portrait of Amadou Bamba, illustrated by designer Giulia Boccarosa taking inspiration from an outtake of the project where the Sufi leader appeared carved on a tree. Inside, the clean design continues the tradition of Witty Books of giving free space of expression to the grammar and poetics of the sequence.
96 Pages / 23×28 cm
500 copies / Hard cover with silkscreen
Design by Giulia Boccarossa
Text by Jeremy Hutchison
Published by Witty Books
Released in October 2021