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We remember the TV images of Nelson Mandela in a grey suit, in bright sunlight, walking free from prison in 1990. We might not know that he could have walked free five years earlier. The reason he did not is because the offer made to him by then State President of South Africa, P. W. Botha was conditional. The conditions basically required Mandela to retire in silence,  abandon everything he had stood up for, and went against his responsibilities toward his political supporters.

Mandela once said, “In prison, you come face to face with time. There is nothing more terrifying.” To learn that he refused release after 22 years of incarceration, despite the terror of it, is more proof of Mandela’s unwavering pursuit of justice.

In 1962, Mandela was arrested, convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial. He was imprisoned for nearly 20 years on Robben Island until a 1982 transfer to Pollsmoor Prison. Perhaps (?) another lesser known fact is that Mandela was a keen boxer. He boxed to maintain health and discipline, so I’ve included a couple of images of Mandela training — one from 1950 before his imprisonment (below) and one from a prison yard (bottom).

Mandela-Sparring

To keep fit, Nelson Mandela, solicitor, was at Jerry Moloi’s boxing gym at Orlando every evening. He’s shadow-sparring with Moloi (right) a professional featherweight. As the biggest case in South Africa’s history lumbered to the end of its first stage this August 1957, the 156 accused men and women wondered how many of them would be back in court again. The 156 national leaders had first appeared at a preparatory examination into treason at the end of 1956, in the specially constructd court at the Drill Hall, Johannesburg; they had spent their lives in and out of court for most of 1957; and they could now see the possibility of the same prospect for the third calendar year, 1958, if they were committed for trial in the Supreme Court. (Photograph by Drum photographer © Baileys Archive)

It’s difficult to know what to say upon the death of any man, but particularly a man who shaped history. Therefore, it was a treat, an inspiration (and a writer’s let-off) to find Mandela’s inspiring rejection of Botha’s offer on the UCSC Library website:

On 31 January 1985, Botha, speaking in parliament, offered Mandela his freedom on condition that he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. This was the sixth such offer, earlier ones stipulating that he accept exile in the Transkei. His daughter Zinzi read Mandela’s reply to this offer to a mass meeting in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on 10 February, 1985. This was the text of his response as read publicly by Zinzi:

I am a member of the African National Congress. I have always been a member of the African National Congress and I will remain a member of the African National Congress until the day I die. Oliver Tambo is much more than a brother to me. He is my greatest friend and comrade for nearly fifty years. If there is any one amongst you who cherishes my freedom, Oliver Tambo cherishes it more, and I know that he would give his life to see me free. There is no difference between his views and mine.

I am surprised at the conditions that the government wants to impose on me. I am not a violent man. My colleagues and I wrote in 1952 to [Daniel François] Malan asking for a round table conference to find a solution to the problems of our country, but that was ignored. When [Johannes Gerhardus] Strijdom was in power, we made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When [Hendrik] Verwoerdwas in power we asked for a national convention for all the people in South Africa to decide on their future. This, too, was in vain.

It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us, that we turned to armed struggle. Let Botha show that he is different to Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd. Let him renounce violence. Let him say that he will dismantle apartheid. Let him unban the people’s organisation, the African National Congress. Let him free all who have been imprisoned, banished or exiled for their opposition to apartheid. Let him guarantee free political activity so that people may decide who will govern them.

I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. Too many have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I have suffered during these long, lonely, wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and of your organisation, the African National Congress, which was banned.

What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offence? What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in banishment in Brandfort? What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?

Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Herman Toivo ja Toivo, when freed, never gave any undertaking, nor was he called upon to do so. I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.

When F. W. de Klerk signed off on Mandela’s release in 1990, he was careful to make certain that Mandela’s freedom would be unconditional.

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If you are in NYC and you’re quick on your feet you might just make it to Zwelethu Mthethwa’s artist’s talk tonight. Followed by a reception and book signing at Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn (begins at 6.30pm).

Mthethewa’s work will be on view at The Studio Museum in Harlem until October.

AFRO-PESSIMISM

Afro-Pessimism is a term introduced by Okwui Enwezor (for the essay of Mthethwa’s monograph) in an attempt to describe what Zwelethu Mthethwa’s art is not.

I had dozens of working titles for this blog post each one reflecting an approach (and/or quote) by Mthethwa which described his process, his collaboration with the sitter, the waves of culture in which we exist, whether poverty in photography is a problem for the practitioner or audience, etc, etc. These topics are too huge for a title of course, fortunately there’s plenty of wonderful online videos and chances to hear Mthethwa talk about his art:

Aperture (who are publishing his first monograph) has a four-part interview, Zwelethu Mthethwa: In Conversation with Okwui Enwezor.

The Mail & Guardian has a narrated slideshow, “I hope when people look at these images they are honest and open to learning new things.”

Dazed and Confused visited Mthethwa in his studio, which is a fascinating look at his work space. A great painter as well as a great photographer!

ESSAY

For the SFMoMA ‘Is Photography Over Symposium’, Okwui Enwezor leans on Mthethwa’s work to ask, “How do diverse cultural practices engage with the legacy of photography?”:

“Before foreclosing the effectiveness of photography or to ask whether we have reached the end of photography, we should address the diverse manifestations of photography in societies in transition where its powerful effects of seeing is constantly battling different logics and apparatuses of opacity. All through the years of apartheid, photography was at the center of this battle between transparency and opacity, thus lending the medium a far more discursive possibility than it would have enjoyed as purely an instrument of art. One can in fact, argue, pace Georges Didi-Huberman, that in the context of apartheid photography was an instrument of cogito.”

“In South Africa, for the critics of documentary realism or anthropological realism, especially black artists such as Mthethwa, documentary realism was always at the ready to link the iconic and the impoverished with little recourse to examining its spectral effects on social lives. Because of this, documentary realism generated an iconographic landscape that trafficked in simplifications, in which moral truths were posited without the benefit of proven ethical engagement.”

From what I can gather Georges Didi-Huberman’s thesis is that images are killed, denied their truth, narrative or violence within the dominant art historical canon that has elevated the image to art. The image becomes cogito – an object of thought – not an object pertaining to reality or even to action.

Mthethwa’s images are against such failings; they are attempts at transparency, honesty. Mthethwa talks in the interviews about his ethical and slow engagement with his subjects.

Afro-Pessimism is on the decline.

BIOGRAPHY

Zwelethu Mthethwa (born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 1960) received his BFA from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, a then–whites-only university he entered under special ministerial consent. He received his master’s degree while on a Fulbright Scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology. Mthethwa has had over thirty-five international solo exhibitions and has been featured in numerous group shows, including the 2005 Venice Biennale and Snap Judgments at the International Center of Photography, New York. Mthethwa is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

MARTIN BATALLES REPRESENTING URUGUAY

LIVIA CORONA REPRESENTING MEXICO

MARCOS LOPEZ REPRESENTING ARGENTINA

Friend of Prison Photography, Emiliano Granado, likes football as much as he rocks at photography.

We pooled our knowledge to pair each country competing in South Africa with a photographer of the same nationality.

GROUP A

FRA France  – JR
MEX Mexico – Livia Corona
RSA South Africa – Mikhael Subotzky
URU Uruguay – Martín Batallés

GROUP B

ARG Argentina – Marcos Lopez
GRE Greece – George Georgiou (Born in London to Greek Cypriot parent)
KOR South Korea – Ye Rin Mok
NGA Nigeria – George Osodi

GROUP C

ALG Algeria – Christian Poveda
ENG England – Stephen Gill
SVN Slovenia – Klavdij Sluban (French of Slovenian origin … I know, I know, but you try to find a Slovenia born photographer!)
USA United States – Bruce Davison

GROUP D

AUS Australia – Stephen Dupont
GER Germany – August Sander
GHA Ghana – Philip Kwame Apagya
SRB Serbia – Boogie

GROUP E

CMR Cameroon – Barthélémy Toguo
DEN Denmark – Henrik Knudsen
JPN Japan – Araki
NED Netherlands – Rineke Dijkstra

GROUP F

ITA Italy – Massimo Vitali
NZL New Zealand – Robin Morrison
PAR Paraguay – ?????
SVK Slovakia – Martin Kollar

GROUP G

BRA Brazil – Sebastiao Selgado
CIV Ivory Coast – Ananias Leki Dago
PRK North Korea – Tomas van Houtryve (it was difficult to find a North Korean photographer)
POR Portugal – Joao Pina

GROUP H

CHI Chile – Sergio Larrain
HON Honduras – Daniel Handal
ESP Spain – Alberto García Alix
SUI Switzerland – Jules Spinatsch

Emiliano has been posting images from each of the photographers and doubled up on a few nations where the talent pool is teeming. You can see them all over on his Tumblr account, A PILE OF GEMS

NOTES

* Don’t even begin arguing about who should represent the USA. It is a never-ending debate.

* I’ll be honest, finding photographers for the African nations was tricky, even for a web-search-dork like myself. But then we knew about the shortcomings of distribution and promotion within the industry, didn’t we?

* For Chile, we had to look to the past legend Larrain. I’ll be grateful if someone suggest a living practitioner.

* North Korean photographer, by name, anyone? We had to fall back on van Houtryve because he got inside the DPR.

* Rineke Dijkstra was one of approximately 4 thousand-trillion dutch photographers who are everywhere.

* Araki was the easy choice. Ill admit – I know next to nothing about Japanese photography (Marc, help?)

* I wanted a few more political photographers in there, while Emiliano goes for arty stuff. I think we found a nice balance overall.

* And, SERIOUSLY, name me a Paraguayan photographer! PLEASE.

AUGUST SANDER REPRESENTING GERMANY

JULES SPINATSCH REPRESENTING SWITZERLAND

PHILIP KWAME APAGYA REPRESENTING GHANA

These two bicycle culture anthropologists stop, chat with and photograph cyclists.

“The Bicycle Portraits project was initiated by Stan Engelbrecht (Cape Town, South Africa) and Nic Grobler (Johannesburg, South Africa) early in 2010. Whenever they can, together or separately, they’re on the lookout for fellow commuters, and people who use bicycles as part of their everyday work, to meet and photograph.”


Plaut on racial tensions, sick politics, terrible stats and a worst case scenario:

For most South Africans, Eugene Terre’Blanche was a throwback to another era. But his death is a blow to the country’s image of racial tolerance, fostered so carefully by Nelson Mandela.

Some are likely to believe that the fact that his alleged attackers were arrested so rapidly smacks of a cover-up. Others, on the minority far-right fringe, will see his death as a vindication of their assertion that whites cannot live under black rule.

It is a tragic fact that more than 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994. And it is possible that some people may seek retribution.

Mr Terreblanche’s funeral could become a rallying point for such sentiment.

Source: Terre’Blanche death brings Zuma appeal for calm, Sunday, 4 April 2010

UPDATED: Ben sent over the link for SnagFilm’s page for the full-length documentary The Leader, his Driver, and the Driver’s Wife.

– – –

Terre’Blanche was beaten and hacked to death in his home yesterday. The violence is no less horrific than that meted out by supporters of Terre’Blanche’s A.W.B. Party upon Black South Africans. On one occasion, A.W.B. members confronted Black miners as they surfaced at the pit-head after their shift and attacked them with clubs and machetes.

Terre’Blanche instigated many acts of heinous violence and murder. Terre’Blanche was also a terrorist. The Guardian:

In 1998, Terre’Blanche accepted “political and moral responsibility” before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for a bombing campaign to disrupt the 1994 elections in which 21 people were killed and hundreds injured.

Terre’Blanche’s A.W.B. Party was separatist and outside of the political mainstream but that doesn’t mean Terre’Blanche himself was disconnected from the apartheid era government of the 1980s and 90s. The A.W.B. existed for so long (since 1973) because of a constant fringe element willing to embrace white supremacist politics in South Africa

The Leader, his Driver, and the Driver’s Wife

In 1991, my favourite documentary maker Nick Broomfield, made The Leader, his Driver, and the Driver’s Wife. This film is available to UK readers on Channel 4 and for the rest of us on Youtube in seven parts.

Throughout the documentary, Broomfield drops in rumors and reports of sporadic violence by A.W.B. members against Black men, women and children. These matter-of-fact inserts, along with the run around he himself experiences as a working-journalist, is the volatile and irrational world in which Terre’Blanche’s racist rhetoric thrived.

When murdered, Terre’Blanche was 69 years old. The manner in which he antagonised and brutalised other humans about him, it is a wonder he lasted that long.

– – –

Note: I highly recommend Broomfield’s work, particularly Biggie and Tupac.

© Andrew Jackson. Black Child, Gulugetu, Cape Town, 2006

© Andrew Jackson. Black Child, Gulugetu, Cape Town, 2006

I have no answers. I have just asked for them. We will get answers but they may be outnumbered by more questions.

I have no answers. And yet, two things struck me this week. They both go to the heart of the necessary cynicism AND optimism toward the photojournalist’s craft. These two contributions are contrary in tone and yet I can agree with them both.

I have no answers.

ANDREW JACKSON

Firstly, from Andrew Jackson and his ‘WrittenByLight‘ blog.

A 4OD episode of the Art Show entitled If asked a number of contemporary poets to produce modern (re)workings of Kipling’s famous poem If. Jackson was compelled to create his own and “perhaps speak of [his] own misgivings of documentary photography”.

If you can meet strangers and develop relationships with them
If you can enter into their lives and ensnare them with trust
Then solicit from them their lives and record this with your camera
And if you can make them believe this to be a collaborative process
Only to end this when your photographs are taken – never to see them again
And if you can raise a profile upon these images
Whilst talking sympathetically of the plight of those you have discarded
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you’ll be a documentary photographer, my son!

FINBARR O’REILLY

In answering such doubts, Finbarr O’Reilly on the Reuters blog gives an honest and balanced appraisal of the global coverage (and his part in it) of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even as Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-related death toll rose above a staggering five million, making it the most lethal conflict since World War Two, the war in Central Africa remained largely unnoticed and under-reported.

and

The media could enjoy coffee and croissants for breakfast, drive up to the front-line fighting or the squalid camps home to hundreds of thousands of displaced Congolese, then return to file stories and pictures in time for dinner and a night at the bar.

and

There were so many photographers in Congo last year that there’s a running joke at photojournalism festivals and competitions this year about viewers and judges having to sit through “yet another picture story from Congo.”

and

But at least Congo, that beautiful, terrible place, became a highly visible story. It’s easy to be cynical about the idea of a devastating conflict suddenly becoming a trendy cause, but the important thing is that people are finally paying attention to one of the world’s worst catastrophes. U.S. President Barack Obama referred to Congo’s troubles in speeches, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Goma in August and said she was moved by the plight of Congo’s women, many of whom are victims of extreme sexual violence and mass rape.

The temperance of O’Reilly’s opinion – in spite of his closeness to the events – is impressive.

Maybe the foil against the consumption of images of distant plight is to insist that the photographer’s voice and experience is always carried with them. Better still, the voice of those depicted is carried with the images. That way there can be no doubt of the actual conditions in which the images were created.

Finbarr O’Reilly has spent many years on stories in DRC, including eight specific photo series relating to aspects of Congolese experience.

© Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

© Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters. From the series 'Congo Hair'

Again and again similar images are repeated, with only the actors and settings changing. Grieving mothers, charred human remains, sun sets, women giving birth, children playing with toy guns, cock fights, bull fights, Havana street scenes, reflections in puddles, reflections in windows, football posts in unlikely locations, swaddled babies, portraits taken through mosquito nets, needles in junkies’ arms, derelict toilets, Palestinian boys throwing stones, contorted Chinese gymnasts, Karl Lagerfeld, models preparing for fashion shows backstage, painted faces, bodies covered in mud, monks smoking cigarettes, pigeons silhouetted against the sky, Indian Sardus, children leaping into rivers, pigs being slaughtered.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
‘Unconcerned but not Indifferent’ Foto8 (March 2008)

Timmy (center), with Peter (left) and Frederick, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, South Africa (c-type print, 12" x 16", 2003)

Timmy (center), with Peter (left) and Frederick, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, South Africa (c-type print, 12" x 16", 2003)

Dion, 41, General in the 28s describing his imaginary uniform, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, South Africa (c-type print, 12" x 16", 2003)

Dion, 41, General in the 28s describing his imaginary uniform, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, South Africa (c-type print, 12" x 16", 2003)

If two ends of the spectrum were identified this week during the debate about race and how it is (mis)treated by photographic practice we could see them as the moronic fashion world practitioners and then everybody else – “everybody else” being social documentarians, new-media image-makers, old-school bang-bang-club photographers and fine art practitioners. This second larger group is where most thoughtful folk place their energies.

Bizarrely there are a couple of guys who run the length of this spectrum. Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin used to be the creative directors of Benetton’s controversial Colors Magazine AND they travel through Africa and Central America taking photographs of people in institutions.

Broomberg and Chanarin have also pissed a lot of people off. They are that good.

We all remember Steven Mayes’s departure speech from the World Press Photo, but Broomberg and Chanarin beat him to his oft-repeated remarks that photographers repeat motifs and collectively thicken the pen around photojournalism’s self-drawn caricature.

A full year prior to Mayes’ rallying call for new imagery (genuine, everyday Black culture; affluent drug use and users; and real sex), Broomberg and Chanarin were throwing punches low and hard at photojournalism’s conceit. They quoted Brecht; ‘The tremendous development of photojournalism has contributed practically nothing to the revelation of the truth about conditions in this world. On the contrary photography, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, has become a terrible weapon against the truth.’

In turn, Broomberg and Chanarin relied on Sontag and Barthes;

‘Since its inception photojournalism has traded in images of human suffering. If one of its motivations for representing tragedy has been to change the world then it has been unsuccessful. Instead the profession has turned us into voyeurs, passively consuming these images, sharing in the moment without feeling implicated or responsible for what we are seeing. Roland Barthes summed up the analgesic effect of looking at images of horror when he wrote “someone has shuddered for us; reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence”.’

They provide a pat description of the “obscene feeling” jury process in which there is no text, caption or context. Judgement is dependent only on the aesthetics of the image: “We are asked to judge whether, for example, a photograph of a child suffocating to death in a mudslide is sufficiently beautiful to win a prize.” After this Broomberg and Chanarin explain the means by which the panel narrowed down the 81,000 images to five winners, suggesting with some contempt that Hetherington’s Exhausted Soldier was a predictable result.

Before I go any further, I should say that Tim Hetherington voiced a stirring rebuttal to Broomberg and Chanarin’s derision.

Self-Portrait by Mario, Ren Vallejo Psychiatric Hospital, Cuba. (c-type print 12" x 16", 2033)

Self-Portrait by Mario, Ren Vallejo Psychiatric Hospital, Cuba. (c-type print 12" x 16", 2033)

So what? They’re a grumpy duo with a pocket full of common critical theory? Yes … and no. They go further. To my observations they apply what they preach. I have coined the term Slow Photography for this piece because they lug about a 4×5 camera and as well as standing over the top of their medium format to hold a conversation, they’ll usually stick around for a week or three.

There is a sense that Broomberg and Chanarin arrive ‘either too early or too late’ and not within the usual media-driven time scale at a site of social crisis.

They’ve described the relationships they build with their subjects as very important. Lucky for them they have the leisure to hang around you are saying?! Fair point, but they use their time well.

With Ghetto, they went to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in South Africa and made portraits of male, female and transgendered inmates. They went to Ren Vallejo Psychiatric Hospital, Cuba also. In total they went to twelve rare communities, methodically photographing and asking the same questions: “Who is in power here? Where do you go to be alone, to make love, to be with friends? What are your hopes and dreams?”

I love that question, “Who’s in power here?”

Broomberg and Chanarin simultaneously reference old slower photo-processes and question the sped-up practices of 21st century photojournalism. Charlotte Cotton, Curator of Photographs at the V&A, has observed, “The sense of activity being slowed for the camera references nineteenth century photography both in terms of process and style. It also serves to detach their photographs from the conventions of photojournalism.”

And if we needed any more proof that these two geezers are on top of their game, lets look how they dealt with the two major conflicts of the beginning of the 21st century.

They got quiet with wartime scratches and scrawls, but have received none of the plaudits Peter Van Agtmael, Tim Hetherington, Roger Ballen or bubble chamber photography have.

The Red House documented the prison and torture center run by Saddam Hussein’s Baath party in Sulaymaniyah, Iraki Kurdistan, 330 kilometres from Baghdad.

The Red House

The Red House

The Red House

The Red House

The Red House

The Red House

And, then when they were “privileged” enough to merit an embedded assignment with the British military in Afghanistan they thumbed their noses at any notion of photojournalism. Instead they took 70 metres of photo sensitive paper and unrolled sections to expose it to light and that became the record of each day and their time in conflict.

Each roll was given its title based on the occurrence of an event, death or absence of death during that day. Below is the work from the day of a prison escape.

The Jail Break, June 13th 2008. 76.2 x 600cm, c-type

The Jail Break, June 13th 2008. 76.2 x 600cm, c-type

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