A Short History of South African Photography
curated by Rory Bester, Thato Mogotsi and Rita Potenza
A Short History of South African Photography is a presentation of 100 photographs taken in South Africa over the last 100 years. Mixing the ordinary, extraordinary, and idiosyncratic, the exhibition is a reading of photographs as placeholders – temporary, transitory, and importantly, disruptive – within a complex historical and aesthetic imaginary.
As a powerful witness to apartheid, photographs are crucial to making and remembering a South African history. In one sense this relationship between apartheid and photography is deeply intertwined in a series of apparently definitive moments and images. But, crucially, witnessing must also be an act of translation. Witnessing, without a further understanding and reading of photographs as forms and acts of translation, relegates these mechanical moments – so finely diced, and delicate in time – to carry information with little or no significance or relevance. Photographs are left to become unremarkable fillers in a standardised text that is announced as history.
In reading photographs as placeholders, the exhibition recognises that photographs are moments and momentary, not only in time and space, but also in making and unmaking histories.
Using photographs carefully selected from archival, museum and photographers’ collections, A Short History of South African Photography explores how witnessing, translation, circulation, aesthetics and politics contribute to a complex visual reading of South Africa that is porous and pliable to changing understandings of the past, present and future.