Julia Gunther

Born in Berlin in 1979, Julia graduated from the University of the Arts, London, UK, in 2003, with a BA in Film & Video Studies. First based in Berlin, London and now Amsterdam, she worked as a spark on feature films, tv shows and commercials. After a year in Cape Town working for a production company in 2008 she started shifting gears to concentrate solely on photography. From 2008, and aside from her commercial work, Julia has essentially devoted her time to her personal project Proud Women of Africa – a documentation of the lives of women that work and/or live in Africa. Rainbow Girls won the Documentary category Photoworld 2014 presented by the New York Photo Festival, and the LensCulture Exposure Award 2013 in the category Single Image. Published in five languages, Proud Women of Africa was exhibited at many venues throughout the world, including Photoville The Fence 2015 New York, Atlanta & Houston and Photoville 2014 New York, Grid Cape Town Biennial 2015, South Africa, and the Amsterdam Gay Pride 2013, NL. Today we share her brilliant series, Ruthy Goes to Church.

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Ruthy Goes to Church

‘Ruthy Goes to Church’ is part 2 of Julia Gunther’s personal project Proud Women of Africa: a collection of short visual stories that portrays the daily lives of remarkable women living or working in Africa. Remarkable because they fought, survived, overcame or simply ignored the obstacles that life has thrown at them. Remarkable because they never gave up. All of the women in my pictures have suffered in some way: they’ve been ostracised by society, are desperately poor, or have experienced terrible injustice. But they are also all still proud. Proud of who they are, of their lives and the love they represent. The women I photograph might be victims but they do not see themselves that way. They are proud. Strong. Defiant. I wanted to portray them as they see themselves. Because we have seen enough images of victims. And I think it’s important to respect their self-image. These women are not giving up, have not given up and will not give up.

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‘Ruthy Goes to Church’ is the portrayal of Ruth Jones, second-in-command of the Anglican Church Brigade in Cape Town, South Africa. Ruthy was born and still lives in the infamous township of Manenberg, renowned for its drug and gang related crime. Ruthy was raped by an employee at the local pool when she was fourteen years old. Pregnant and unable to finish her schooling, Ruthy returned to the Anglican Church in Manenberg, the place where she was baptized and the one constant in her turbulent life. There she feels safe, that her life has more meaning, and that she is able to help the new generation of Manenberg children cope with the demands of this often violent society. She’s the second in-command of her church brigade and takes pride in her role as a youth worker, aside from working full time and being a mother of two.

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Ruthy in her own words:

My name is Ruth Jones. It comes from a bible scripture my mom so very much fell in love with at the time she carried me. I’m a 43 year old Capetonian and I was brought into this world on the 12 of November 1971. I was born at the Peninsula Maternity Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. I would do anything for friends and family. I never had the chance to finish my school- ing and sometimes I wish to have that better life to provide financially for my family.

I’m second in charge of the anglican church brigade in Manenberg and I play the flute, bugle, base drum and drums. If I don’t do a good job, they will demote me. Being a member of the church brigade gets me away from the normal life and situations I’m facing daily. I’m able to see the other person in me, being with children from all ages and different groups and families. To teach them and also to respect and appreciate the meaning of the church brigade. The children in our brigade come from everywhere within the community but they all come to our church becauseof the brigade. Other churches don’t have brigades and uniforms like ours.

Sometimes people think the brigade is only to walk in the street and to play an instrument. But it’s so much more.

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Julia was shortlisted three times for the Kuala Lumpur International Photoaward, a Finalist Top 200 at Photolucida Critical Mass 2014 and Interim Winner at New York Photo Awards 2012.

To view more of Julia’s work, please visit her website.