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Photographing Apartheid

Paul Weinberg conceived and curated the exhibition Then & Now for the
Center for
Documentary Studies
at Duke University. It featured the work of eight
South African documentary photographers, all of whom were associated with
the legendary collective photo agency Afrapix. Here, we present the work of
four of them: Eric Miller, Graeme Williams, Gisele Wulfsohn and Weinberg
himself, and they describe their feelings about working in that
extraordinary time.

'Those of us who actively documented both the unfolding events and the
deeper fabric of our society in the 1980s often referred to ourselves as the
'taking sides' generation. We were unabashedly partisan and saw the camera
as a 'weapon against the system', as I wrote at the time (somewhat
embarrassingly, upon reflection). We had a strong tradition of working
collectively - whether running workshops or exhibiting jointly. The ethos of the time was that the common cause against apartheid was more important than
our individual needs or interests.'

Paul Weinberg

'I was planning to be a photographer, but all I could find was a job as a
property photographer at The Argus. All you had to do was put your
camera over the wall, and as long as you got the pool and the house in the
frame, you were home and dry. When, in 1986, the violence broke out in
Crossroads, I finished photographing my houses as quickly as possible, and
just drove into the township, thinking, 'Okay, this is something a bit more
interesting.' I had no idea what I was doing - I just drove in, stopped my
car, got out, and took pictures, and The Argus used them that night.
When I got back home I heard that the BBC cameraman George d'Arth had been
hacked to death covering the Crossroads violence, so that was a bit of a
reality check. But this was a turning point for me; I realised there was lot
going on that I was interested in photographing.'

Graeme Williams

'Even though I was working for Style, a lifestyle magazine aimed at affluent
South Africans, I decided to join Afrapix and also document the other side.
I was criticised for working at Style; this was the mid-1980s, when a lot
was happening, and people were joining the United Democratic Front and the
End Conscription Campaign. My response was, 'While you are busy documenting
the poor, I'm documenting the rich, and you can't pretend they're not here;
they are also part of South Africa.' So I would go along to those upmarket
events and portrait shoots, and drive to Soweto later the same day. It was a
schizoid existence, adapting from one situation to another, but somehow I
did it, and many others did too. I didn't join any of those organisations,
but I did join Afrapix, and my eyes were opened.'

Gisele Wulfsohn

'I was drawn to shooting pictures of what was happening, and I became very
aware of how the news was being presented, especially on television but also
in the newspapers. There was a voice inside me saying, 'This isn't true, I
can't believe what they are saying, this doesn't make sense.' Some of the
police versions of events just did not sound logical to me, and going out
with a camera was a way of going to see for myself; a pretext to immerse
myself in some of those things and to see the truth. And I started seeing
how an event that had unfolded in front of me was being presented on the 8pm
television news, and it would be completely different.'

Eric Miller
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