African Photography: Documentary, Part 3

African Photography: Documentary, Part 3

Posted in Photography

In the 1960s, South Africa was immersed into the apartheid and many resistant movements were organized throughout the country. Apartheid legislation determined every aspect of people’s lives, from where they could live and what they could learn to whom they could meet or marry. During this period, several African photographers documented the social and political lives of people that would later be published in numerous books, some of which have been critically acclaimed.

David Goldblatt

David Goldblatt was born in 1930 in Randfontein, South Africa. He began working in photography in 1948, the same year when apartheid was legislated and enforced by the freshly elected National Party. His photographs during this period document the social realities of people living under apartheid. In extensive photographic essays published in numerous books during the last five decades, Goldblatt reflects on individual experiences framed by the broader political context. He published his first book On the Mines (1973) with photographs that explores the physical structures of mining as well as the lives and livings it affected. In his book South Africa: The Structure of Things Then (1998), Goldblatt offers a visual analysis of the relationship between the structures of his country and the forces that shaped them since 1948. In The Transported of KwaNdebele (1989), Goldblatt documented the exhausting bus trips taking black workers from their homes in the KwaNdebele Bantustan to the terminus in Pretoria, and then back to their homes at night, during apartheid. Goldblatt has been featured in many gallery and museum exhibitions, locally and internationally, and continues to photographs his region.

Family at Lunch by David Goldblatt

Cloete Breytenbach

Cloete Breytenbach was born in 1934 in Bonnievale, South Africa. In 1951, he began working as a journalist for Die Burger – an Afrikaans-language newspaper based in Cape Town. During that decade, he worked as a photojournalist on various South African publications before flying to an international career. In Europe, he took various photographs on assignment for several newspapers and magazines including The Daily Express, Paris Match, and Bunte. Upon his return to Cape Town, Breytenbach established a photo agency with fellow photographers to supply local and international publications with news images. In 1966, under apartheid, the government declared District Six – a racially-mixed suburb of Cape Town to be a white-only area. As a result, the inhabitants were forcibly relocated before the suburb was completely demolished by the late 1970s. During the years of transition, Breytenbach visually documented the everyday life of District Six by capturing the activities and feelings of its people. Images of children playing and dancing, to street parades, celebrations and other social events are contained in his book, The Spirit of District Six, first published in 1970. Since then, the photographs have been exhibited locally and internationally.

People of District Six by Cloete Breytenbach

David Levin

David Levin was born in 1938 in Cape Town, South Africa where he attended SACS, the oldest high school in South Africa. In 1958, he departed for London where he took his first steps into photography by working as a photographic sales assistant in a retail shop, before moving into medical photography for a dental and a plastic surgeon. In 1961, Levin left United Kingdom for Canada and trained as a television cameraman at the CBC – Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, prior to returning to South Africa. There he discovered again his love for his hometown through more mature eyes, and mainly captured people from District Six and the Malay Quarter. Levin worked as a press photographer for the Cape Times newspaper and had one of his photographs, taken during the epic events surrounding the world’s first heart transplant, exhibited at the World Press Photo Exhibition at The Hague in 1969. He eventually left the Cape Times and opened his own studio specialising in industrial public relations and magazine photography. After closing his studio, he began working for Groote Schuur Hospital as a medical photographer, and remained there for 25 years until his retirement.

Kids at District Six by David Levin

Ernest Cole

Ernest Cole was born in 1940 in Pretoria, South Africa. In 1957, he dropped out from school and started taking photographs. He later worked as an assistant to a Chinese studio photographer who taught him the basics of photography. In 1958, Cole was hired as an assistant by Jurgen Schadeberg – the picture editor of Drum magazine. While working for Drum, he encountered different young black South Africans who helped him shape his political views in the wake of anti-apartheid movement. In parallel, he registered for a correspondence course with the New York Institute of Photography and started a project that consists of recording the social effects of the apartheid. He took numerous pictures that show the rough conditions under which black South Africans were forced to live during apartheid. In 1966, Cole left for New York to showcase his apartheid project photos. The resulting book – House of Bondage was published the following year, and immediately banned in South Africa. Cole spent the remaining years of his life in painful exile abroad, and died of cancer in 1990, a week after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Woman in a Kitchen by Ernest Cole


Posted in Photography  |  October 17, 2015