Early exposé of Apartheid in rarely-seen exhibition

2014-06-30 00:00

SHOWING at the Durban Art Gallery (DAG) in Anton Lembede (Smith) Street, Durban until July 20 is Photos in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and the dawn of Apartheid.

Curated by Alex Lichtenstein, associate professor of History at Indiana University in the United States, the exhibition offers a comprehensive look at Bourke-White’s rarely seen photojournalistic portrayal of South Africa in 1949 and 1950.

Hired by Henry Luce as the first photographer for Fortune magazine in 1929, Bourke-White became one of four staff photographers at the renowned illustrated news magazine, Life.

With 24 million readers, it represented the most widely circulated form of visual information in the world.

With a self-confessed “insatiable desire to be on the scene while history is being made”, Bourke-White documented moments of great social significance in the 20th century.

These included the economic crisis that beset rural America and the new social order under construction in ­Soviet Russia. She also famously covered the liberation of the concentration camps in Europe and documented the independence of India.

While on assignment in South Africa for Life, Bourke-White spent four months covering the early period of National Party rule, including the inauguration of the Voortrekker Monument, and the exploitative conditions of mineworkers and black life under apartheid.

Published in September 1950, the photo essay ran over 16 uninterrupted pages and contained 35 photographs, five in colour, the rest in black and white, and all of which exposed the inequities of Apartheid.

As Bourke-White told her editors at Life, “It’s the most unbelievable system. It’s vicious, and it’s got to be ­exposed.”

Of the 40 images on display in the exhibition, only 11 appeared in the maga­zine, the rest having been sourced by Lichtenstein from Bourke-White’s papers at Syracuse University.

As part of the exhibition, there will be a walkabout, conducted by Liechtenstein on Wednesday, July 2 from 12 noon to 1 pm. Parking reservations can be directed to Thulani Makhaye at 031 311 2268 or Jabu Mngwengwe at 031 311 2263. — Arts Editor.

• arts@witness.co.za

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