Ernest Cole and the Apartheid Museum

Land of Nams: living in Johannesburg, exploring the world, documenting the things I love

Yesterday after the bookstore I took my sister to the Apartheid Museum. It was my first time too and I learned a lot. One of the biggest things I was haunted by was the work displayed in the museum by the photographer Ernest Cole. I remember reading about him in a NYT article some time ago and was blown away by his images of apartheid era South Africa. He gave voice to the voiceless and gave us a window and record of life for black South Africans. He snuck his camera into mines, marches, and the street (a black man walking around with expensive cameras in apartheid Joburg was not an easy feat). He successfully had himself re-classified  as Coloured and since they typically received more privileges than blacks, he was able to escape into exile to New York City in 1966. He published his photos and writings in a book called House of Bondage (it was banned in SA during apartheid) which I am going to start immediately when my sister leaves. Tragically he spent most of the 70’s and 80’s homeless and without his cameras. Ernest Cole died at the age of 49 a few weeks after Nelson Mandela was freed from jail. A lot of his lost images were found in Sweden after his death and are currently making their way around the world in exhibitions.

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