Documentary Photography in Apartheid and Post - Apartheid South Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Birmingham City University
Department Name: Unlisted


This project investigates the development of documentary photography in South Africa from the early years of apartheid to the formation of a new democratic South Africa in 1994. It does so not through a comprehensive historical survey, but by selecting key publications, organisations and photographers that have shaped the use of the medium in significant ways. The research addresses, for example, the illustrated magazine Drum, first published in 1951, which introduced an international style of humanist photography to black photographers and audiences. Similarly, it considers the photographic collection created under the auspices of the International Defense and Aid Fund during the 1980s, a period of 'struggle' photography in which the political and cultural were unavoidably linked.

Photography is often believed to 'witness' history or 'reflect' society, but such perspectives fail to account for the complex ways in which photographs get made and seen, and the variety of motivations and social and political factors that shape the vision of the world that photographs provide. This research looks closely at the photographs in their original contexts, listens to the voices of the photographers to try and understand how they viewed the work they were doing, and examines the place of photography in a post-apartheid era. Based on interviews with photographers and editors, and through the analysis of photographs held in collections and displayed in museums, this research addresses the significance of photography in South Africa during the second half of the twentieth century. In researching the unique circumstances of South Africa in this period it is anticipated that the study will contribute to our understanding of photography more broadly, challenging and extending existing ideas about how and why documentary photographic records come to be created.


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Newbury D (2007) JOHANNESBURG LUNCH-HOUR 1951-1963 in Journalism Studies