African Photography: Social Documentary, Part 1

African Photography: Social Documentary, Part 1

Posted in Photography

In the 1970s, some South African photographers allegedly embraced the social documentary style to challenge reductive images of the anti-apartheid struggle. Using a narrative mode, they explored the everyday realities of their communities without abstracting the emotion from the overarching political context of apartheid. Some photographic narratives were unapologetically brutal in response to the regime’s propaganda while others avoided the exclamatory by depicting the effects of oppression.

Stan Winer

Stan Winer was born in 1940 in South Africa. He worked as a freelance photojournalist, writer, and researcher. His interest was mainly in politics, international relations, and issues related to Human Rights. His work has been syndicated internationally by Camera Press agency based in London and published by various foreign mass media publications. In 1973, Winer was commissioned by the IDAF (International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, a non-governmental organization based in London and banned in South Africa) to obtain clandestine photographs of apartheid conditions in South Africa for international anti-apartheid campaigns. Winer was eventually arrested by the South African security police on trumped up allegations of terrorism. He spent 90 days in detention and was threatened with the death penalty in terms of a law which made provision for the sentencing to death of activists who campaigned abroad for trade and economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. In 1977, Winer went into exile for 13 years. He has lived and worked in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and United Kingdom, before moving back to South Africa in 1990, when exiled activists could return without fear of prosecution.

Paul Alberts

Paul Alberts was born in 1946 in Pretoria, South Africa and spent his youth between Botswana and South Africa. After dropping out from the University of Pretoria in 1965, Alberts started to work as a journalist on various newspapers. His interest in photography and the arts in general inspired him to capture many of the personalities of that time in the country including artists, actors, writers, and politicians. Most of these photos were published by HAUM in 1979 in his book, In Camera: Portraits of South African Artists. In 1975, he turned to freelance photography with his main interest being social documentary and theatre photography. His further photography, writing, publishing operations, and participation in major exhibitions represented a robust and sustained growth phase in his career. Alberts had seven photographic books published in his lifetime and his work – together with other photographers or with his photos used as illustration was also published in nine books. Alberts furthermore contributed to a number of major photography exhibitions, including some of which were shown locally and abroad. In 2002, Alberts was awarded a Medal of Honour by the South African Academy of Science and Arts for his work as social documentary photographer.

Chris Ledochowski

Chris Ledochowski was born in 1956 in Pretoria, South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg. In 1977, he attended the Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town where he majored in photography. In 1982, Ledochowski moved back to Johannesburg where he established Afrascope – an alternative production agency that supports the resistance to the apartheid regime through documentary films. Following several security raids in the agency and the seizure of his equipment, he decided to focus on photography. In 1983, Ledochowski joined Afrapix – a photographic collective which was the forefront of the anti-apartheid and trade unions activities. He returned to Cape Town where he pursued his documentary work in the townships and squatter camps. While photographing in the townships he also took on commissioned portraits which he then hand painted and framed for his clients. In 1994, he started to document the Cape Flats townships almost exclusively in colour for aesthetical, political, and professional reasons. This culminated in the publication of the book Cape Flats Detail in 2003. Ledochowski is regularly invited to collaborate on group projects and contribute to national and international exhibitions. He continues to work as a freelance photographer in Cape Town.


Posted in Photography  |  May 21, 2016