Hamba kahle, Bra Alf

2012-10-26 13:49

SA photographers share their memories of Alf Kumalo with Charl Blignaut

Peter Magubane,Internationally acclaimed photographer

He fought apartheid with his camera, not by using a gun or toyi-toying. He knew there is nothing as powerful as a camera. You can reach the entire world in two seconds and that’s what Alf did. The youngsters of today should learn from him and go out and get what they want to get. Don’t allow yourself to be dictated to. Just go and get the picture.

Cedric Nunn, Celebrated middle-generation photographer

The mould at the time was very much exclusion, not letting new people in. But Alf embraced others in his field. He made me feel exceptional. He never discriminated when he met people. It was a rare quality and it influenced every aspect of his photography. It made people act differently. He captured moments others didn’t.

Jurgen Schadeberg, Iconic Drum-era photographer
I remember that his passion was sport, which made him one of the top sports photographers in the early 50s. In the 60s he became more involved with the struggle against apartheid. It was always very difficult for black photographers since they were continually harassed by the system. I admire him for his great courage and perseverance.

Themba Hadebe, Award-winning young photojournalist
Doing matric in Thokoza I contemplated photography as a career, but even my guidance teacher didn’t know about photojournalism. So I did my own research. What made up my mind was reading Alf Kumalo’s biography. I saw myself in him – a self-taught photographer who made his own destiny. He flew to Kinshasa with his own money to photograph Muhammad Ali.

Sam Nzima, Took the iconic 1976 photo of Hector Pieterson

We forged ahead and took photos we weren’t allowed to. He was a brave man. We were together on June 16. I took the photo of Hector, but Alf arrived from the other side. Some students mistook him for a policeman and started beating him. I went to intervene and rescued him. Last week I phoned and he said he was in hospital and was hoping to recover soon.

Rashid Lombard, Photojournalist and jazz promoter

We had music in common. He liked the big band. For the Duotone exhibition in 2004 I asked him to contribute. He said: ‘But I don’t have music pictures.’ I said to look in his archive and he found about 20. Even he was shocked. There was the photo of (Miriam) Makeba having her shoes fitted in New York. He paid for his own trip to photograph her in exile.

João Silva, Photojournalist and author of The Bang Bang Club
I learnt a lot from him, especially on night shifts at The Star. We had cubicles for our processing. Alf’s was crammed top to bottom with negatives. You couldn’t move in there. He’d stick his hand in and pull out an amazing shot of huge historical relevance. One time he pulled out a picture of Madiba and Winnie and their newborn baby – just like that out of the blue.

Jodi BieberInternational award-winning photographer
I remember when Alf gave some of us a lift back from an election event in 1994. He was telling us all these stories and when he stopped the car, he said: ‘Come, let me show you.’ He opened the boot and there were piles of his most famous negatives just lying there. Photos of true historical relevance. In his boot!

Gille de Vlieg, Anti-apartheid activist and Afrapix photographer

I often found myself alongside Alf photographing prison releases or funerals. The thing that sticks in my mind was that Alf always got in a little closer. I’m a small person and he was bigger, and he’d stand on my toes more than once. A painful memory! Actually, I called him ‘the quiet photographer’ because he’d never elbow anyone to get a shot.

Nadine Hutton, Photojournalist, artist and film maker
Generous! On assignment he was quick to offer advice and he always led by example. He’d arrange access for all of us because people knew who he was. There’s an image I have of him? covering a court case a few years ago. I turned and there was Alf at the top of a fence. He was always doing things like that to get the shot. He was a spritely old man.


David Goldblatt, Internationally revered photographer

I really liked Alf very much indeed. He was a man of great integrity and a photographer of great integrity, who left us with an incredible archive. He was one of a small group of men in the 60s, 70s and 80s who had similar feelings about photography and the state of our nation.

Paul Weinberg, Photographer and founder member of Afrapix

I worry about what’s going to happen to his archive. It would be a great shame if it landed up in an American institution. I hope South Africa rallies together to keep this great legacy at home. There is still so much amazing imagery to unearth in that archive.

Greg Marinovich, Award-winning investigative photojournalist

Hamba kahle, Bra Alf. Shoot us a great image of the Pearly Gates, just to complete the set.


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