Paul Samuels

Paul Samuels

South Africa, born in 1989

Named after the postcode for the unassuming Johannesburg suburb of Edenval, Paul Samuels’ series XVI X had its origin in an offer from the owner of a tattoo parlour with the district’s insignia on his ankle to do something similar for the young South African artist as a twenty-first birthday present. Naturally, Samuels jumped at the chance to be emblazoned with a motif he had long admired on the biceps of other guys in the neighbourhood. Only later did he start to question their sense of identity and to investigate the real reasons behind it. Though Samuels is not fond of the term “fraternity,” this is what it is: a feeling of belonging to the same group, geographically circumscribed and defined by shared sociocultural values. These white, middle-class South African children are certainly assailed by questions of identity — an understandable phenomenon in a nation still scarred by the Apartheid years. The pastimes, such as heavy metal and skateboarding, that bind them together seem to conceal a certain angst. “Young and angry,” Samuels describes them. Without always knowing why, nor about what. Perhaps it’s the feeling of injustice when they compare their lot to that of the spoiled brats in the nearby suburb of Bedfordview, all smart houses, designer clothes, and fast cars. XVI X is though less an objective portrait of disaffected youth and more a dive into the photographer’s own everyday existence: the models are all childhood friends, neighbours, or family members. The participative aspect of the project is key. The poses are chosen by the sitters themselves, eager to massage the image they project. Collaborators on the artwork rather than subjects in a documentary, they soon betray the sense of fragility that lurks beneath the strutting and posturing. A trace, in all probability, of the close relationship between them and their compassionate observer.

The Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2008 – 2012



Paul Samuels, Darren; Lorcan; Warren and Russel; Sean and Ethan, from the series XVI X, 2012 – 2014
Inkjet prints
55 x 75 cm
© Paul Samuels

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