All across the Americas, from the 16th century onwards, enslaved Africans escaped their captors and struck out on their own. These runaways, having found their freedom, established their own communities or joined with indigenous peoples to forge new identities.
Cimarron, borrowing a Spanish-American term for these fugitive former slaves, is a new series of photographic portraits of their descendants. From Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean islands and Central America, as far as the southern United States, elaborate masquerades are staged that celebrate and keep alive the history and memory of African slaves and their creole or mixed-race descendants. Stock characters are portrayed in costume, or in grotesque or satirical representations. A huge variety of African tribal dress, wild ritual regalia and shimmering Mardi Gras outfits feature in breathtaking succession. Vividly coloured silks and cottons combine with woven fibres, leaves, feathers, and bodypaint; props include emblems of slavery and slavemasters – ropes, sticks, guns and machetes. These photographs record real people whose collective sense of memory, folk history and imagination dramatically challenges our expectations.
Charles Fréger’s work has established a large and growing following among connoisseurs of contemporary photography, defining a new genre of documentary portraiture that extends and deepens our sense of the human past and the present.