22 February 2014

Ernest Cole: Photography for world change

Nowadays most people can take a decent photo. You simply need a good camera and be at the right time and place. That's why it makes such an impact when you discover someone who uses photography as a powerful tool hoping to change the world. South-African Ernest Cole(1940-1990) made it his life mission to teach the world about the horrifying truth of Apartheid.

Ernest Cole grew up in Pretoria, the son of a tailor and maid. A relative gave him an old camera to make money out of taking portraits of people in his neighborhood, which started a life-long passion of photography. He went on to portray every day life of black South-Africans, who for more than three hundred years had suffered discrimination from the Dutch and English. In 1948 a law of Apartheid was legislated by a white regime that was saturated with politicians who saw the black man as lesser worth. Trains were divided in two, one very small part for "non-europeans" and one for "white". Park benches were reserved for white, and stairs had one side for blacks and one for white. The blacks were exploited to work in the mines for next to nothing, a dangerous work that was physically and emotionally straining. The hospitals for white had good doctors and plenty of space and resources, while the hospitals for blacks were undermined and forgotten. Blacks were arrested by police for any reason, just for being at the wrong time and place.
Train platforms were divided in two; it was a struggle to catch the train for black South Africans

Cole documented their struggle for eight years before he had to hide in exile, landing in New York. There he published his book, "House of Bondage", revealing his photos and the harsh reality of the ongoing Apartheid. In addition to the book, there are only a few hundred photos that still exists today.

The exhibition is divided into different sections and the photos are displayed by themes, on one or two walls. Every new theme is introduced by quotes from the "House of Bondage". "The mines", "Banishment" and "For whites only" are only a handful of themes.

Even in their seemingly modest black and white suit the photos seem to have a life of their own. As a spectator I feel like I am drawn into the photo becoming a part of the scene that is being played out. It hits me how rare it is to see the works of a photographer who doesn't photograph for the sake of recognition but for a chance to draw attention to an important cause.

Cole died from cancer in 1990, the same year Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and four years before Apartheid was banished.

He spent many years in Sweden where his only remaining photos have been treasured by the Hasselblad Foundation. The Preus museum in Horten has been fortunate enough to borrow the works until the 1st. of June.

1 comment:

  1. It is sad that one group of humans can institute treatment like this on another group of humans, and think it is all right. Coles photographs are strong in their message, they document what really happened and made himself leave his own country in pain. This is a strong exhibition well documented by you, Inge.