African Photography: Documentary, Part 2

African Photography: Documentary, Part 2

Publié dans Photography

In the 1950s, several photographers living in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid started to document the events as activists or witnesses of people struggling to survive in the country. Some were initially portraitists or photojournalists, but took numerous pictures in the hope that they would eventually be printed and published, as they are today. These photographers of different generations, immigrants or residents, were determined to capture those moments that marked the country for decades.

Leon Levson

Leon Levson was born in 1887 in Lithuania. He was one of the first South Africa’s documentary photographers. Initially, he was a renowned portrait photographer, depicting Johannesburg’s elite. After the World War II, he travelled South Africa by motorcar with his wife, capturing the transitions that they saw around them in the country. He was concerned with the changing social conditions of his time, documenting the origins of the migrant labour system and the growing urbanisation that was occurring in the country. Levson’s photographic style echoed that of street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, with pictures taken on and in and from the street. His images were taken at ground level, emphasising the generosity of public space around the subject or the structure. Levson portrayed the beginnings of rapid urbanisation in Johannesburg. A common characteristic of images of the apartheid period was how unpopulated it was, and contrasts overtly with the intense activity that Levson essentially tried to capture.

Street Photographer by Leon Levson

Eli Weinberg

Eli Weinberg was born in 1908 in Latvia where he experienced the World War I as a child and was separated from his family. In his youth he joined a trade union and soon became involved in its activities. In 1926, he developed an interest in photography while he worked part time as an assistant in a friend’s studio. In 1929, Weinberg left his home country for South Africa where he stayed until 1976. He spent his first years working as a professional photographer. Most of his work was shot on assignment for New Age, an independent and progressive weekly paper. Weinberg was politically against the apartheid and active in the trade union movement in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Johannesburg, since 1932. Even during the period of his house arrest he continued to run a studio where he trained several young photographers. Weinberg later published the book A Portrait of the People that illustrates vividly the struggle of black people and the revolutionary movement. He participated in several exhibitions and his work has been well recognized.

Trial at Drill Hall by Eli Weinberg

Ginger Odes

Ginger Odes was born in 1924 in Cape Town, South Africa. He got is initial experience in photography during World War II as a reconnaissance and aerial photographer. After the war, he returned home to establish a photographic studio and quickly made a reputation by working for clients including Harper and Vogue, who published a South African edition at the time. Odes went on to produce a fine collection of portraits of Cape Town’s leading personalities, but his true passion was for recording exquisite imagery of the local ballet scene. This passion was the inspiration for Ginger’s most beautiful work. Odes founded an ad agency with a client base that included Shell and Rembrandt. In later assignments, he spent much time photographing the Cape’s iconic wine lands, and local wine and brandy producer KWV sent him across the globe to produce a series of international calendars, his inspiration for mounting an exhibition titled “Odes to Wine”.

Newsboy by Ginger Odes

Ranjith Kally

Ranjith Kally was born in 1925 in Durban, South Africa. He was drawn to photography after buying a Kodak Postcard camera and later started a career in photojournalism. He worked for some newspapers including Drum, where he spent almost three decades. During this period, he took pictures of anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela and historical events including the Treason Trial and the Rivonia Trial. He also captured iconic scenes such as a concert of Miriam Makeba in Lesotho during apartheid, and sport celebrities such as Papwa Sewgolum – the caddie who became an internationally acclaimed golfing champion. Kally’s photographic technique is detail-oriented with a different nuance and a very specific depth of focus. In a series of unflinching portraits, he documented with probity the horror of the forced removals in Natal. Kally’s pictures are part of the Nobel Collection and have been first exhibited at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg in 2004. Recently, he presented his collection of works in the book entitled Memory Against Forgetting published in Cape town.

White Magistrate by Ranjith Kally


Publié dans Photography  |  octobre 10, 2015