Alice Mann’s Drummies photo series is brought to life in book form

The South African photographer’s project celebrating the sport of drum majorettes won the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize in 2018. Now, it’s been turned into a photo book and exhibition

The sport of drum majorettes has a fascinating history in South Africa, first becoming popular in the early 1980s. In contemporary culture, there is a strong sense of nostalgia linked to the sport and it is largely viewed as the pursuit of a bygone era.

In many marginalised communities across the country, however, drum majorettes is still taken seriously and is considered a highly competitive sport. For the girls who partake in the sport, being a drummie is a privilege and an achievement, indicative of success both on and off the field.

Top: Curro Thatchfield Primary School Majorettes, 2018; Above: Avondale Primary School Majorettes, 2018. All images © Alice Mann

Known for making images that blur the lines between fine art, documentary and fashion, photographer Alice Mann first made a name for herself in the photography world with her series Drummies, which won the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in 2018.

Born in South African and now based in London, Mann has since exhibited internationally everywhere from Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam to New York’s International Center of Photography, as well as being featured by publications including the Guardian and the New York Times Magazine.

Dr. Van Der Ross Primary School, Cape Town, 2017
Hillcrest Primary School Majorettes, Theewaterskloof, 2018

Drummies remains one of the photographer’s most significant projects to date though, offering a fascinating insight into a subculture that many of us know little about. “Drummies is a very aspirational culture, a lot of the girls are in really challenging situations, and many of them come from areas with social or economic issues including gang violence and absent parents. The sport offers hope, positivity and self-development,” Mann told CR in a 2018 interview.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Mann’s long-term project has been brought into the physical world in the form of a photo book published by Gost Books and an accompanying exhibition at Kunsthal Rotterdam, which runs until January 2022.

Fairmont High School Majorettes, Cape Town, 2018

Aside from filling the frame with the personalities of Mann’s young subjects, the images in the book highlight the paradox of a sport that palpably empowers those involved within a wider society where women confront myriad obstacles.

While there have been various debates around the archaic sense of discipline and idealised notions of femininity associated with drum majorettes, being part of a team offers girls a sense of belonging and emboldens their self-worth, Mann explains. “This is part of my ongoing work exploring notions of femininity and empowerment in modern society,” she says.

“With my continued investigation into this subculture, I hope that these images can communicate the pride and confidence these girls have achieved through identifying as drummies, in a context where they face many social challenges. I want these images to function as a testament to the commitment and determination of these young female athletes, in a world where so many sporting opportunities are still focused on men.”

Drummies by Alice Mann is published by Gost Books and is available from here