Then & Now

then & nowCollected by Paul Weinberg
Introductory essay by Michael Godby
Photographs in colour and duotone
160 pages plus covers
ISBN 978-0-620-39407-9
First edition published in September 2007
Second edition published in September 2008
R350 inclusive of VAT

THIS VOLUME features the work of eight photographers whose careers straddle South Africa’s transition to democracy. Almost all of them were members of Afrapix, the collective photo agency that played a central role in documenting the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s and early 1990s.

At that time, more personal forms of photographic expression were suppressed as photographers responded to the imperative to record their society in turmoil; indeed, some saw themselves as activists in the struggle for democracy. The negotiated political settlement, culminating in the inclusive elections in April 1994, freed them to explore other, less overtly political subjects, broaden their scope beyond South Africa’s borders, and re-examine their approach to photography.

In assembling this project, Paul Weinberg, a founding member of Afrapix and a committed member of this photographic family, asked seven of his colleagues to select 20 images exemplifying their work during and after apartheid. The result is a vivid record of a country first in conflict, and then in a state of resolution and rediscovery.

While there are obvious disjunctures between the earlier and later photographs, there are also significant continuities, and some images ask searching questions of the post-apartheid order. Thus this project not only celebrates the work of a courageous group of photographers who have documented a key period in South African history, but also explores change — and the lack of change — in this complex and challenging society.

MEDIA RELEASES

Major photographic exhibition to be launched in Grahamstown next week

4 September 2007

THE work of eight prominent South African documentary photographers will feature in an exhibition and book to be launched at the Albany Museum on Monday next week.

Entitled ‘Then and Now’, the collection comprises photographs taken both before and after South Africa’s transition to democracy.

The project has been initiated and curated by the leading photographer Paul Weinberg. The other contributors are David Goldblatt, George Hallett, Eric Miller, Cedric Nunn, Guy Tillim, Graeme Williams, and Gisèle Wulfsohn.

Almost all of them were members of Afrapix, the collective photo agency that played a pioneering role in documenting the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Explaining the idea behind the project, Weinberg said this week: ‘During the 1980s, the overriding priority of South African documentary photographers was to record the political conflict in their society, and more personal forms of photographic expression were kept in the background.

‘The transition to democracy freed them to explore other, less political subjects, broaden their scope of their work beyond South Africa’s borders, and re-examine their approach to photography.

‘The purpose of this project is to record the contrasts — and the continuities — between their earlier and later work. The result is a fascinating record of a country in conflict, and then in a state of rediscovery.

‘But the contrast between the earlier and later images is not absolute, and a number of the post-1994 photographs cast an equally critical light on the post-apartheid order.’

He added that the collection also represented a ‘reunion of photographers who have had similar experiences, done similar work, and known each other for many years’.

A third element of the project is a video documentary made by the television producer Roger Lucey, featuring interviews with the contributing photographers in which they comment on their careers and the theme of the project. Extracts from the interviews will be used in the exhibition, and are also included in the accompanying book.

The project has been facilitated by Rhodes Uiversity, and funded by the Conference, Workshop and Cultural Initiative (CWCI) Fund, a partnership programme between South Africa and the European Union, and the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University in the United States.

The exhibition will hang at the Albany Museum for four weeks. It will then travel to various other centres in the country.

The accompanying book is published by The Highveld Press, and will be on sale at the exhibition.

Major photo exhibition reaches Johannesburg

February 2009

A WIDELY acclaimed photographic exhibition featuring the work of eight South African documentary photographers will be shown in Johannesburg from 22 February until 15 March.

Entitled ‘Then and Now’, the collection comprises photographs taken both before and after South Africa’s transition to democracy.

The project has been initiated and curated by the photographer Paul Weinberg. The other contributors are David Goldblatt, George Hallett, Eric Miller, Cedric Nunn, Guy Tillim, Graeme Williams, and Gisèle Wulfsohn.

Almost all of them were members of Afrapix, the collective photo agency that played a central role in documenting the political conflict in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The exhibition will hang at the relaunched PhotoZA Gallery at Kameraz Centre in Rosebank. It is also travelling in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Weinberg has commented as follows on the idea behind the project: ‘During the 1980s, the overriding priority of South African documentary photographers was to record political conflict, and more personal forms of photographic expression were kept in the background.

‘The transition to democracy freed them to explore other, less political subjects, broaden their scope of their work beyond South Africa’s borders, and re-examine their approach to photography.

‘The purpose of this project is to record the contrasts — and the continuities — between their earlier and later work. The result is a fascinating record of a country in conflict, and then in a state of reconstruction and rediscovery.’

He added that the collection also represented a ‘reunion of photographers who have had similar experiences, done similar work, and known each other for many years’.

A video documentary featuring interviews with the contributing photographers will be shown at the exhibition. A book featuring the entire collection of photographs, a critical essay, and extracts from the interviews will be on sale.

Riaan de Villiers of The Highveld Press, the book’s publisher, said this week the exhibition was one of the most significant photographic collections shown in South Africa in recent years. ‘It celebrates the work of a very influential group of documentary photographers who made a major contribution to documenting South African society in this tumultuous era.’

  • The Then & Now project is managed by the Centre for Curating the Archive in the Michaelis School of Fine Art of the University of Cape Town. It has been funded by the Conference, Workshop and Cultural Initiative (CWCI) Fund, a partnership programme between South Africa and the European Union; and the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University in the United States.

MEDIA REVIEWS

Ghosts of the past

Shaun de Waal, Mail & Guardian, 28 February 2009

Shaun de Waal looks at three photographic books that illuminate our history, and raise some intriguing questions about the present

Republished late last year, Then and Now (Highveld) highlights the work of eight South African photographers and contrasts their work during the apartheid era with their work in the new democracy. Put together by Paul Weinberg, it is the companion volume to a travelling exhibition. Seven of the eight photographers were associated with the Afrapix collective, which did much to document the upheavals of the 1980s. Many images here are iconic, and that’s not just because some of them appeared in The Weekly Mail. The photograph by Paul Weinberg (who also edited the book) of a lone woman raising her fists to two Casspirs feels as though it sums up the whole era.

The eighth photographer in the book is David Goldblatt, who was not an Afrapix member but was indubitably a kind of spiritual father to that generation of South African photographers. The contrasts between “then” and “now” are not necessarily as stark as one might expect; often there is an ironic resonance between the images of the two eras.

It is fascinating, though, to see how these socially engaged photographers have extended their work into the era of democracy. Some go beyond the borders of South Africa to see what is happening in the rest of the continent from which we were cut off for so long; others find a more personal register in which to interact with the world around them. Gisèle Wulfsohn, for instance, turns her lens on people living with HIV/Aids, whereas Graeme Williams moves closer towards the realm of “pure” or “art” photography.

Not that there wasn’t art involved in making even the 1980s and early 1990s images. Guy Tillim’s 1988 photo of a Transkei herder and cattle, say, is as much a gorgeous meditation on clouds, hides, landscape and movement as it is about a particular way of life in South Africa. Tillim’s work since the end of apartheid both extends into other parts of Africa and refines its aesthetic concerns.

Tillim’s own new book, Avenue Patrice Lumumba (Prestel), looks at the decaying and patched-together modernist buildings erected either in the dying days of colonialism in Africa or soon after independence. They represent what he calls “a walk through avenues of dreams” — the deferred dream, perhaps, of a post-colonial accession to the modern, as well as the lost dream of revolutionaries such as Lumumba, murdered just as he articulated a new cry for African freedom. There’s probably an Avenue Patrice Lumumba in most African capitals, ironically mythologizing a figure whose hopes and beliefs have been so often betrayed by post-colonial states.

The most obvious images here are those of colonial sculptures left to rot in some yard, or that in which a statue of Augustine Net, the Angolan leader at the time of independence, stands swathed in black plastic in the town square. Perhaps it has yet to be unveiled, but in the photo it reads as something half on display and half hidden, its status uncertain.

Sometimes the buildings Tillim portrays are empty, and he finds in them the sparse geometry of a desolate, skeletal kind of space, as well as the textures of decay — which, as Breton Breytenbach pointed out some time ago, is also a kind of life. Sometimes the buildings and the photographs are inhabited, and a smiling or thoughtful face or the contours of a body remind us that people are living here.

Similar thoughts occur to one while looking at Goldblatt’s Intersections Intersected (Civilização Editora and Museu Serralves), which is structured like Then and Now. Goldblatt images from the 1960s to the 1980s are set against those taken in the late 1990s and the 2000s; there are subtle contrasts and often harsh ironies. In a 1967 image, for instance, a portrait of HF Verwoerd hangs askew in a Cape voorkamer; in 2006, a bleached election poster of a smiling Thabo Mbeki hangs rather disconsolately on a low farm fence.

In the introductory text of Then and Now Michael Godby comments that in the 1980s the Afrapix photographers “would frequently both avoid the centre of the format, seemingly to allow for a multiple focus in the picture, and work with the margins, as if to acknowledge … the fact that life obviously continued beyond the frame”. This may have felt like the more democratic thing to do, at a time when South Africa yearned for democracy, so it’s interesting to see how Goldblatt moves so inexorably in that direction in his most recent works. It’s as though his world is now less centred, less obviously focused, in the time of democracy than it was “then”.

His street scenes (one of many in which there is no human face or body at all) are exemplary of this tendency, filling the frame with human activity and inanimate structure to speak of an urban landscape in which the individual face barely manages to provide a focal point — or comes to be one only after the eye has slid off a whole lot of other surfaces and found the human expression almost hidden or lost in the busyness.

In another image this tendency seems to reach its logical conclusion. It shows a suburban garden almost overflowing with plants that all but obscure the wall that cuts through them. At first I saw it simply as a portrait of greenery getting on with its own life, a contrast perhaps to the images of streets and people or those of dry veld and cracked monuments. But then, over the page, I read the caption: “Our summer garden and ADT”, it says, and a return to the photograph and a more careful gaze reveals the sign of suburban security concerns all but lost in the foliage. Even amid green growth, there is a reminder of threat.

Images such as those made by Goldblatt, Tillim and the photographers represented in Then and Now allow us to see beyond the borders of our own little worlds, or to see our own worlds afresh.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
ww.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-05-ghosts-of-the-past

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