Nunn other than Cedric

2010-02-13 00:00

A PICTURE, they say, is worth a thousand words. And in South Africa, it was the work of photographers that helped show the world what was happening to ordinary people during the apartheid years.

Among those photographers was Cedric Nunn, and in his la­test exhibition, “In Camera ”, which can be seen at the Luthuli Museum in Groutville until the end of February, he conti­nues a quest to expose inequa­lity and exploitation.

South Africa may now be a democracy, but the gap between rich and poor remains — and it’s this that Nunn explores in his work.

“We are trying to create a new society, a society which is just … equitable,” he said at the launch of the exhibition. “But we need to learn from the lessons of the past. That’s why I took this project so seriously. It attempts to reclaim the know­ledge of the past and become a way of shaping the future of South Africa.

“Social, critical commentary needs to be present … and I like to think of my photos as a positive contribution, a positive criticism that takes us forward.”

That need for photographs to be used in social commentary is not new. Durban University of Technology photojournalism lecturer Deseni Soobben, a guest at the opening of “In Camera”, said that from its earliest days, photography helped to highlight social inequality and exploitation.

Using Britain as an example, she added: “Even though ­­lite­r­ature, art and socio-political thinking provided a means of understanding social issues, it was really the photographs that showed the grim reality [of Britain during the 19th and early 20th century].

“In fact, in the 1800s, a photographer named Thomas Annan was commissioned by the Glasgow Improvement Trust in Scotland to record the dreary slums that existed, if only to inform the higher classes of society about how the other half lived.”

Closer to home, it was the work of “struggle” photographers like Nunn, Soobben and their colleagues at the Afrapix photo agency who helped expose the reality of apartheid.

The photographs taken by Afrapix members — including Omar Badsha, Paul Weinberg, Peter Mackenzie, Ranjith Kally and Rafs Mayet — recorded and highlighted the poor living and working conditions of black South Africans, the inequalities of society, the funerals of the slain, and the political rallies that dominated the 1970s and ’80s.

“Afrapix was really the alternative eyewitness to SA,” Soobben said. “Photographs were sent overseas at great risk and I have no doubt that if it were not for Afrapix, the world would not have seen the realities of the time — it would’ve been braaivleis, sunny skies …” Soobben said.

Looking back at photos from this period, there can be few people in the world unmoved by Sam Nzima’s photo of the dying Hector Petersen being carried by a fellow student, which was published around the world at the time of the Soweto student riots in June 1976, or outraged by the photograph of the necklacing of a young woman, which was ta­ken by Kevin Carter.

Nunn’s photos, which were commissioned by the Witsbased Apartheid Archive study project, show a different South Africa, a country that at first glance has come a long way in the 16 years since the first de­mocratic elections.

But when you look a little closer at these images of ordinary everyday life in KwaZulu-Natal, you will see that for some people, little has changed.

THE Apartheid Archives project is an international research initiative that aims to examine the nature of the experiences of racism of ordinary South Africans under apartheid.

The project is collecting, documenting, analysing and providing access to over 5 000 personal or narrative accounts of the impact of apartheid on their authors.

The project was initiated in August 2008 by 22 researchers at universities in South Africa, Australia, the United States and United Kingdom.

The research will take place in several phases and over at least five years.

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