Street Studios – An Archive of the Heart, Alexia Webster's photography

Alexia Webster Street Studios – An Archive of the Heart

Two friends, names not given, posing for their portrait on the corner of Cornwell and Hercules Street in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa, 2011.

Charle Kahalalo who escaped violent attacks in his village in Masisi and has been in living for a year in Bulengo IDP Camp in Goma, DR Congo, stands for his portrait, 2014.

Jaspera Rahatavola, a rock breaker at the Ambohitrombihavana granite rock quarry, outside of Antananarivo, Madagascar poses for his portrait at a temporary studio, 2014.

Two young friends pose for a portrait at the studio between houses in Dharvai, Mumbai, 2015.

Mercy Mofokeng and her sister after a church service on Kaptein Street in Hillbow, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2013.

Neema Bonke, 35 years old, pregnant with her third child, poses for a photo in Bulengo IDP Camp in Goma, DR Congo, 2014., Alexia Webster

Two friends sit for a portrait in the communal courtyard of their neighborhood in Dharvai, Mumbai, India, 2015.

Jesus Gonzales Tejada, 40, a Mexican American who was deported from the US and Rhonda Moore, 54, an American nurse, who are currently homeless, pose for their portrait in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, 2017., Alexia Webster

Akili, 3 months old, is held up for a portrait by her mother Mapenzi Mwamini, 18 years old. The family were farmers in Masisi, DR Congo, before they had to flee violence, 2014., Alexia Webster

Nyaloki Mayor, 13, poses with flowers in a United Nations IDP camp in Juba, South Sudan, 2016., Alexia Webster

Artist's statement

All the years I was growing up, hanging in the hallway of my childhood home in South Africa was an old black and white photograph of my grandparents, my great uncles and my mother as a toddler, posing in a photographer’s studio.

They were recent economic migrants to South Africa from a small village on a little island in Greece. I would stare for hours at the photograph, my grandparents looking young and glamorous, dressed in their finest; at my 3-year-old mother, sitting obediently with curls in her hair; at the studio painted backdrop of a misty romantic scene. Though they had just left their whole world behind in search of a better life, to me they looked like elegant characters from a tale my grandmother would tell. This family photograph, of all the images I have, is my most treasured.

First created in March 2011, the Street Studio project is a communal family photo album which has set up free outdoor photographic studios on more than 20 street corners and public spaces around the world. In each community we visited we created public photo studio sets and invited any passing families and individuals to pose for a portrait. The photos were then printed on site for free with a photo printer for the participant to take away with them for their own family album. From street corners in informal settlements in Cape Town, to refugee camps in the DRC and South Sudan, a working rock quarry in Madagascar, a few neighbourhoods in Mumbai, India, and parks and migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, the studios are set up with the understanding that a family photograph can be a powerful and precious object. Both a participatory art performance as well as a communal gathering space, the Studios are open and at the same time very intimate. By creating space for public displays of love and identity, they offer the community and individuals an affirmation of heritage and belonging. With thousands of photographs taken over an almost 8 year period, the Street Studio is an archive of family and love, an archive that documents not what makes things fall apart but what keeps them together.

About the photographer


1979, South Africa


South African

Based in

New York, United States

About Alexia Webster

Alexia Webster is a photographer and visual artist whose work explores intimacy, family and identity across the African continent and beyond. In 2013, she was awarded the Artraker Award for Art in Conflict, the CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography, and in 2007 she received the Frank Arisman Scholarship at the International Centre of Photography, New York.

Her work has been widely exhibited across South Africa, Nigeria, the United States, Europe, Réunion Island and India and published in numerous international publications. Most recently, Webster travelled to Tijuana, Mexico as part of an International Media Foundation fellowship and grant.