Johannesburg was the late photographer’s home for 50 years. Now, an exhibition at Goodman Gallery, London, charts his nuanced documentation of the city during apartheid and the post-apartheid period
“She hangs around with us after school even though we make it clear she bores us. We whisper nonsense and pretend to laugh at jokes so she laughs too, and we ask, ‘What’s so funny?’ to watch her squirm. She knows we are mean, and yet still she follows along behind. ‘Like a dog,’ we say, loud enough for her to hear.”
On athousandwordphotos.com this is the start of the text accompanying an image of Russian army cadets by Anastasia Taylor-Lind – but it’s not a direct quote from one of the young women depicted. Instead it’s a work of fiction by author Claire Fuller, inspired by the image but written without any knowledge of the circumstances in which it was shot.
It’s the same with the story that accompanies Karim Ben Khalifa’s photograph of a sofa, which was taken in war-torn Kosovo in 1999. In real life, the sofa had been looted and therefore set on fire by French peace-keepers to discourage further looting. But in author Dan Dalton’s hands, it’s set on fire by a 17 year old, who had spent happy hours with a slightly wayward group of friends hanging out on the abandoned couch. Meanwhile a photograph taken by Dungeness nuclear power station by Phil Fisk, inspired Lydia Ruffles to write a short story about a worker called Tomo who’s afraid of the sea.
Pairing documentary photography with fictional writing isn’t new – in fact it’s become quite a trend, with image-makers such as David Goldblatt, Vasantha Yogananthan, Max Pinckers, and Dayanita Singh – among many more – all playing with the combination in recent years. But the examples above come from quite a different project, set up to support Interact Stroke Support – a London-based charity that organises sessions in which actors read to recovering stroke patients.
When Michelle Sank approached young people on the streets of Sandwell, asking to take portraits of them in their bedrooms, most were happy to be photographed. It was trickier to negotiate with their parents, who were sceptical for obvious reasons. “I had to explain why it was so important for me to photograph them in their bedrooms,” says Sank. “What’s on their walls is a metaphor for their identity and personality”. My.Self is a collaboration with Multi Story, a local charity that works with artists to make work for and about the people of Sandwell. The charity hadn’t produced any work yet on young people in the Black Country – a name for this region of the British West Midlands believed to have come from the layer soot it was covered with in the Industrial Revolution – so with her past experience of working with young people, Sank decided to make portraits of them in their bedrooms, wearing the clothes, and surrounded by the items, which help to confer their identities. The book is dedicated to …
“I have still never seen the first work I made as a photographer,” says Sabelo Mangleni, who started his career as a delivery boy for a local photographer in his hometown in Driefontein, four hours drive east of Johannesburg. The photographer he worked for had been asked to shoot a wedding but, unable to attend herself, asked Mangleni to cover it – sending him off with a camera around his neck and a crash course in photography. After the wedding the newlyweds quickly picked out the images they wanted to remember their day with – so quickly, Mangleni never got to see them.
Still, the experience of looking for a good photograph and working with people from within a community, got him hooked, and in 2001 Mangleni moved to Johannesburg and joined the Market Photo Workshop. Set up by renowned documentary photographer David Goldblatt in 1989, this well-respected organisation supported young black photographers during apartheid South Africa.
It was an excellent start in photography, but arriving in Johannesburg, Mangleni felt alienated. “I couldn’t understand what people were saying,” he says, describing the struggle to communicate with people in English, which he was still learning at the time. To avoid speaking, he channelled his feelings into photographs of the buildings and architecture, which lead to his first, and ongoing, series Big City.
Only a small percentage of the 400 books that Ben Krewinkel has collected and featured on his website, Africa in the Photobook, are actually African. Many are historical publications, political pamphlets, or children’s books, written, photographed, and published by Europeans – including old colonial texts, which seem to obsess over hairstyles and traditions of scarification. Even the books by contemporary African photographers are mostly published in the West. As a collection that covers more than a century from 1897 to 2018, Africa in the Photobook follows the changing visual representations of the continent through the medium of the photobook – and soon it too will be transformed into a series of photobooks.
Krewinkel, a Dutch photographer, curator, and educator, is working with South African publishers Fourthwall Books on this series, and hopes to publish volume I by the end of 2019. Focusing on Africa under colonialism, it will include a long historical introduction, 40 case studies, and plenty of space to show large spreads from the books. Volume II will sketch a path from the beginnings of decolonisation in the 1950s to the late 1990s, marking the end of Apartheid and also the “re-evaluation of African photography”. Krewinkel then hopes to create a third volume, focusing on contemporary African photo books.
In our September 2018 issue, we interview Vanessa Winship and Hellen van Meene about the genesis of their latest works, and the backstory of death and rebirth that led them in new directions. We also speak to Marina Paulenka, the artistic director of Organ Vida festival in Croatia, about the 10th anniversary edition and its focus on the female gaze. Lucy Davies meets Winship at the Barbican Art Gallery, which is currently staging a mid-career retrospective of her work alongside Dorothea Lange. They discuss the photographer’s decision to step back from making pictures at the height of her success, and how she found her way back after the arrival of her first grandchild. “It has been a rebirth in a way,” she says, speaking about her new direction, “sort of freeing myself from the constraints of my former life. But it was also about conveying the immediacy with which my granddaughter sees the world.” Van Meene’s new series, which goes on show in Amsterdam this September, confronts the subject of death in an inherently personal …
“I became interested in photography in the late 1940s and began to look at magazines such as Life, Look, and Picture Post,” David Goldblatt told Colin Pantall, writing for BJP in 2013. “In the early 1950s, I tried to become a magazine photographer. I sent my pictures to Picture Post and got rejected. Then, when the African National Congress became active in their struggle against apartheid, Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post, contacted me and asked if I could make something. So I went to an ANC meeting and photographed everything I saw. That was in 1952.
“I shot and I shot and I shot and then I realised that I was using a long roll of film – film that had failed to engage on the sprocket of the Leica I was using. It was an incredibly basic mistake. But the other thing I realised was that I wasn’t really interested in what was happening around me.
“After the ANC meeting, I discovered I had to understand what I was competent in and what I was interested in. That took some years to probe, until I could get to the underbelly of the society that underlay South Africa. And to understand it visually, I also had to get a grasp on the history of the country. So I did a degree, which included courses in English and economic history. This taught me how to think and understand what was happening around me.
“My father died in 1963. I was 32 with three children and a family, but I sold the shop [the family business] and, with a couple of Leicas and the capital to keep on going for a year, I became a full-time photographer.”
“David Goldblatt wanted to remove his judgement from his photography,” says Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, the Centre Pompidou curator who worked on a huge retrospective of Goldblatt’s work, shown at the institution earlier this year.
“He always said that if a photograph serves a certain idea, even if it’s a good idea, the idea always takes precedence and the photography then contains a judgement. He felt that he should record the facts, and leave the judgement to the viewer.”
Established back in 2008, the Fotobookfestival Kassel was the first festival devoted to the photobook and, over the last 10 years, has made a name as one of the most interesting on the calendar. Its 10th anniversary edition looks set to bear out this reputation from 31 May-03 June, with talks by celebrated photographers and photobook-makers such as Anders Petersen, Susan Meiselas, Carlos Spottorno, Mathieu Asselin, Gerhard Steidl, JH Engström, and many more, and exhibitions by Dana Lixenberg, Daniel Gustav Cramer, and the designer Sybren Kuiper (SYB). The exhibitions programme also includes two shows devoted to Kassel’s well-regarded prizes – the Dummy Award and the Photobook Award. In total 30 books have been selected for the Photobook Award by a prestigious panel including, Laia Abril On Abortion; Mathieu Asselin Monsanto – A Photographic Investigation; Ludovic Balland American Readers at Home; Tim Carpenter Local Objects; Sanne de Wilde The Island of the Colorblind; Carolyn Drake Internat; Li Feng White Night; Stephen Gill Night Procession; Anne Golaz Corbeau; David Goldblatt Structures of Dominion and Democracy; Daniela Keiser Kairo; Stephan Keppel Flat Finish; Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps The Drake Equation; Sandrine Lopez Moshé; Alix Marie Bleu; Raymond Meeks, Adrianna Ault and Tim Carpenter dumbsaint 01: township & bremen …