Before presenting the history and impact of resistance photography we must consider the historical moment in which resistance photography in South Africa came into existence. The basis for what is commonly agreed to be a literary crisis following World War Two, can also be the foundation for the photographic renaissance of that period. 1 The devaluation of utopian ideology in favor of realism bolstered photography, which supposedly has an intrinsic relationship to realism. 2 Documentary photography, a genre that strives toward "realistic" images, had crystallized in the United States during the depression era with the photographers of the Farm Security Administration (FSA). During the 1940's and 1950's documentary photography in America expanded to popular culture because of the popularity of highly photographic magazines like Life and Look. 3
The wake of the Holocaust and the success of documentary photographers in the United States increased the demand and supply for images, of which resistance photography can be considered an indirect result. Peter Magubane, one of South Africa's most acclaimed resistance photographer, was inspired to become a resistance photographer after seeing the exhibit, "Family of Man," compiled for the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955. Magubane says in an interview:
In 1956 when the "Family of Man" exhibition came to Johannesburg, I looked, and I said, "These are great pictures. If these photographers who took these pictures can do this, why shouldn't I?" I began working very, very hard to try and reach the standard of those pictures that I saw. 4
Magubane's statements aggrandize the influence of foreign photography. While it is important to recognize the foreign influence on resistance photography, not all South African resistance photography was inspired from abroad. Using the camera as a weapon can be considered a very natural phenomenon in apartheid South Africa in light of the arguments made for photography as a medium of resistance presented in the introduction. Resistance photographers needed little impetus other than access to the medium of photography, the next section will detail how one photographer used his access to the medium of photography to set a precedent for the development of resistance photography.5
Leon Leveson, on the Border of Resistance Photography
While African Drum is often considered to be the first major forum for resistance photographers that challenged colonial photography, Gary Minkley and Ciraj Rassool trace resistance photography back to a Mayibuye Centre exhibition at the Center for African Studies at the University of Cape Town in 1946, "Margins to Mainstream: Lost South African Photographers." Many of the photographers included in that exhibit came to be considered the grandfathers of resistance photography: Ernest Cole, Bob Gosani, Eli Weinberg, Leon Leveson. 6 The Mayibuye Center blossomed into the premier archive for resistance photography and was closely affiliated with the London-based International Defense and Aid Fund, an international anti-apartheid hub. 7 Most importantly, the exhibit attracted substantial audiences while touring South Africa and England. 8
Minkley and Rassool argue the merits of considering one of the photographers included in the "Margins to Mainstream" exhibit, Leon Leveson, to be the founder of the tradition of resistance photography. Leveson played an ambiguous role, bridging the legacy of Alfred Cronin and "native photographers" who subjugated Africans through photographic categorization, and the social justice and political agitation of resistance photographers. As late as 1947 Leveson introduced his exhibit "Meet the Bantu: A Story in Changing Cultures" by saying:
These photographs are intended as an introduction to the Bantu peoples of South Africa at this crucial time in their development, as they strive to pass from their primitive way of life into the stream of the Western world. 9
Leveson rigorously pursued his project of documenting the modern African, travelling through many reserves such as Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, Zululand, Natal, Pondoland, Transkei and Ciskei. 11 Leveson's project in its voyeurism is highly analogous to the native photographers who felt compelled to document the African before he/she became extinct. He borrowed techniques and ideas from England and the United States. Leveson visited Kodak's film studios and studied "leading" foreign photographers, much like the early South African photographers of the Royal Photographic Society. 12 The difference between the colonial photographers and Leveson is his insistence on Africans' emerging modernity.
The South African media refused to acknowledge Leveson's rupture with "native photography." When reporting on his exhibits, the South African press excluded allusions to the modernizing African, highlighting instead his traditional themes with headlines like: "Studies of Native Life by Leon Leveson," "Photographic Record of Native Life," "Photographs of Native Life A Camera Sermon," "Natives in Union Well Treated," and "Native Life in Photos." 13 According to Gary Minkley and Ciraj Rassool, these titles conceal Leveson's insistence on Africans' modernity, which is what differentiates him from the "native photographers" and places him as a pioneer of the incipient movement of resistance photography. Leveson's long-term commitment to photographing mining compounds and the migrant lifestyle not only depicted Africans as modern by virtue of their intimate relationship with industry but also portrayed the inhumanity of forced labor. 14
Leon Leveson managed to use his position as a respected photographer (he photographed South Africa's political and industrial elites, including General Louis Botha and General Jan Smuts) to change the trajectory of South African photography away from colonial photography and toward a more complicated understanding of native South Africans. However, to call Leveson the founder of resistance photography would be a terrible simplification and misnomer. 15 Leveson's contemporaries all played valuable roles in laying the foundation for resistance photography. Eli Weinberg, a trade unionist and member of the Communist Party, began to photograph in the 1940's. Influenced by the Soviet "Social Realist Schools" Weinberg set an important precedent for resistance photography in South Africa, by unabashedly siding with dispossessed labor and making portraits of well know resistance leaders such as Nelson Mandela. Ernest Cole, who was greatly influenced by the Magnum agency and Cartier Bresson, also photographed in the activist tradition beginning in the late 1940's, photographing the mines. 16
Drum and the Development of Resistance Photojournalism
Exhibits such as "Margins to Mainstream: Lost South African Photographers" held great symbolic significance, but the audience the exhibit attracted could not compare in size to the audience reached by publications. If audience is to be considered the gauge of resistance photography, then Drum marked its beginning. During the 1960's Drum had a circulation of 450, 000 copies per issue, with an enormous pass-on readership. 17 The emergence of publications that assembled and edited stories from a black perspective and targeted a black audience was due largely to entrepreneurial white proprietors. Black publications that had meager means and small local distributions could suddenly improve their production and reach a national and in some cases international audience. This was the case with The African Drum, later renamed Drum. With the financial backing of Jim Bailey, Drum began production in 1951. 18
Drum, although ultimately heralded as an important alternative publication, was not without its equivocal beginning. Bob Crisp, editor and co-founder, argued that The African Drum should remain in the paternalistic vain of tribal representations of Africans, while proprietor Jim Bailey urged a more progressive philosophy emphasizing Africans urbanity and investigative reporting. 19 Ultimately Bailey won out and brought in a progressive twenty-five year old editor, a classmate of his from Oxford named Anthony Sampson to replace Bob Crisp. 20 Once Sampson replaced Crisp as editor Drum 's stories and images shifted from a "tribal" or "folk" emphasis to portraying Africans as participants in the fast post-war times of the 1950's, as jazz fanatics, stylish dressers, and gangsters, occasionally doing stories about protest marches or contemptible police behavior. 21 Graeme Addison describes Drum in the 1950's:
It appeared to function as a political instrument in spite of its tawdry, irresponsible air; - that its commercial guise somewhat belied its importance as an articulator of the black experience and black aspirations. 22
Although Drum is heralded as an important publication for its rupture with the norms of publications in South Africa in the 1950's, its emphasis on the westernizing effect of Africans' migration to the cities after World War Two is not without criticism. Drum's focus on the bohemian lifestyle of Africans was so thorough that the magazine managed to compile a one hundred and fifty-two page collection of stories about Shebeens (informal bars located in the townships), Shebeens Take A Bow! The portrayal of the new African as a heathen reinforced old stereotypes of Africans as savage and unable to appropriate "civilization," some stories and photographs making this point more directly than others. One reader wrote in:
Disgusting! That's what I call those pictures you put in Drum of girls naked in tribal dress dancing jive in Durban. If you're not careful Dr. Verwoerd will see them and say Africans like to be naked, like to believe they are in the Kraal even if they are in a city like Durban. 23
The best way to handle the critical questions about representation was to cede the journalism, and where possible, the editing over to non-whites. Editor Anthony Sampson complied with calls to "remove the white hand" and left all the journalism to non-whites, even establishing an editorial board of non-whites. 24 Among the notable photographers were Jurgen Shaderburg, Bob Gosani, Ernest Cole, Alfred Kumalo, Victor Xashimba, Gopal Naransamy, G.R. Naidoo, and Peter Magubane. 25 These photographers became the heart of the movement of resistance photography, because of the images they created and because of the inspirational effect they had on other photographers. A resistance photographer Jeeva Rajgopaul explained the chain reaction of resistance, "people started photographing, despite the system, people started working at it. This revitalizes you." 26 Bob Gosani, a young African who was on the verge of being fired from the Drum staff, transferred departments to become a darkroom assistant to Jurgen Shaderburg in 1951. A year later Gosani was taking half of Drum 's photographs and syndicating them to English and American magazines. 27 Similarly in 1954 Peter Magubane, impressed by the publication, joined the Drum staff as a driver; but after a few months he too began to take photographic assignments. 28 Magubane has since become the most acclaimed of the resistance photographers.
The reason Drum became the premier training ground for South African resistance photographers was its dependence on the image. Drum editor Anthony Sampson writes, "no article could be effective without photographs, which were our main weapon." 29 One reason why photographs were Drum's "main weapon" was the high illiteracy rate within the country. The letters Drum received illustrate the illiteracy of Drum's readership. Sampson wrote:
We could never underestimate the comprehension of our readers. The letters that used to reach the Drum office alarmed us, white and black alike, by their inanity. They were written on advertisements, toilet paper, backs of photographs or envelopes. "Sir, I want to be Drum." "Please can I join your Drum catalogue?" "Drum, please give me Drum." "Please, baas, I am Drum."... "Drum, please send me six pounds immediately." "Can I send you a picture of a potato I dug out of my garden? It looks like a little doggie." "Why don't you give the addresses of girls in Drum?" "Drum makes me very educated, how I lurned much in reading with your Drum." 30
While many of the photographs in Drum were of cover beauties, boxers, jazz shows, and gangsters, photographs were essential to investigative reports and articles about protest action. Anxious to do a story on the mistreatment of prisoners, Drum decided to wait until it devised a way to obtain photographs to run the story. White secretary Deborah Duncan postured as the photographer while Bob Gosani and Arthur Maimane posed as her lackeys. 31 Through an elaborate ruse they managed to get a photograph of a prisoner doing the humiliating "tausa dance," a ridiculous step prisoners were forced to perform naked. The image complemented Henry Nxumalo's first-hand report on the miserable conditions in prison and the abuse by the wardens. Because of the photographic evidence, the outright denial of such abuses offered by the Director of Prisons, Mr. V.R. Verster, in the previous issue in response to Manilal Gandhi's scathing article about his experience in prison, were successfully countered. 32
Investigative reports were a primary way that Drum expanded its readership through the early 1950's. The first of them exposed the abusive Bethal farm. Laborers tricked out of long pass lines in Johannesburg were brought to Bethal unwittingly and coerced into a contract. 33 The story Henry Nxumalo (Mr. Drum) wrote after posing as a candidate to work on the farm was complemented by photographs by Jurgen Schaderburg. Shaderburg's images included: a boss-boy on horseback carrying a long whip with laborers walking in front of him, laborers eating dry porridge off filthy sacks, concrete beds, high concrete walls topped with barbed wire, and people accepting contracts by touching a pencil. 34 The article and photographs enflamed the greater South African press and prompted a special investigation by the Institute of Race Relations, which confirmed the article's reports and was responsible for minor changes at Bethal. 35
Drum continued to publish investigative reports with photographs, exposing injustices suffered by Africans such as abuse of prisoners and exploitative farms like Bethal, yet exploitation in the mines was not given any space in the magazine's pages. 36 Critics point to proprietor Jim Bailey's father Abe Bailey who earned his fortune through gold mining as the reason for that glaring void in coverage. 37
Although Drum originally aspired to be apolitical, Sampson conceded, "however much we tried to ignore them, in South Africa all roads led to politics." 38 In October of 1952 Drum broke its apolitical policy and published an eight page photographic essay of the Defiance Campaign. The issue sold out 65,000 copies reaching a new circulation peak. 39 The jump in circulation of that issue contributed to a galvanization of African political interest. The African National Congress slogan, "Mayibuye -Africa" ("come back Africa, " referring to a desire for the pre-colonial Africa) became a common greeting in the townships. 40 Drum went on to cover all the major political happenings of the 1950's in detail: the Sophiatown forced removals, the Defiance Campaign, the adoption of the Freedom Charter by the Congress Alliance, the Treason Trial of 1956, the bus boycotts, and the rise of the PAC. 41
The political engagement of Drum and Drum's dependence on photography provided resistance photography with a forum throughout the 1950's. But the 1950's were difficult times for the resistance movement. The consolidation of apartheid stifled the resistance movement, which had not yet soundly defined itself. Resistance photography could not flourish because the resistance itself was not flourishing. In 1956 Sampson wrote:
There is yet no effective African opposition to the government. Congress is at a low ebb: its leaders are all banned or prescribed, and passive resistance has been crushed. The failure to oppose the Sophiatown move or the Bantu Education Act has diminished Congress' reputation. 42
Soon after Sampson made that comment the resistance was dealt a serious blow when the leaders of the opposition were arrested and tried for high treason. However, the momentum of the liberation struggle shifted dramatically in 1960 with the Sharpeville massacre, and with that shift came new opportunities for resistance photography.
More resistance photojournalists and freelance photographers began to emerge from the white liberal community, the "coloured" community, and the African community. African resistance photographers faced the extra burden of travel restrictions and destitution. Nevertheless African photographers felt compelled to photograph and circumvented obstacles in their way. An indication of the increase in photography in the African community is the growth of Kodak advertisements, which first appeared in Drum in 1958, and an advertisement for the African School of Photography, which read "become a photographer" in the March 1965 issue of Drum. 43
The images that came out of the Sharpeville massacre bolstered the emerging genre of resistance photography and promoted resistance photojournalism. Drum editor Tom Hopkinson asserted that two photographers were on the scene in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960: Drum photographer Ian Berry and a Rand Daily Mail photographer (although neither admitted to being the author of any images from the massacre). 44 The images were successfully censored within the country as a result of the South African government's prompt banning of the book that contains those photographs, Shooting at Sharpeville. P.M. Foster of the British High Commission noted, "one can see little reason for [Shooting at Sharpeville] being first embargoed and more recently banned unless it be the excellent and gruesome photographs with which it is illustrated." 45 Peter Magubane, then photographing for Drum, made many powerful images of the aftermath: the carnage, the mourning, and the burials, which appeared in print two months after the incident. 46 Magubane's photographs offered indelible reminders of the ultimate sacrifice made by pass-protesters, and in so doing inspired others to assume the role of photographic witness.
Resistance photojournalism grew rapidly following the Sharpeville massacre. Drum photographers moved on to other newspapers; Alfred Kumalo, for example, photographed for The Star after his time with Drum. An entourage of photographers who opposed the state began to join community publications as well as the more liberal "English press." 47
The idea of an objective journalism, especially photojournalism, was particularly problematic in South Africa. As the editors of Staffrider, a publication dedicated to artistic expression of oppressed people South Africa, noted, "As photographers we are inextricably caught up in those processes - we are not objective instruments but play a part in the way we choose to make our statements." 48
Photojournalism and the resistance movement continued to feed each other until the censors grew less tolerant of the condemning imagery. Until 1976, photographic censorship was only vehemently enforced in specific types of cases - where there were direct affronts to the apartheid ideology or the state apparatus - like a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt shaking hands with Mrs. Edith Sampson (a black woman), of interracial boxing, or of repressive police action. 49 This relatively limited censorship allowed resistance photojournalism to thrive. The most illustrative example of resistance photojournalism's ability to circumvent the enforcement of censorship laws is Sam Nzima's photograph of Antoinette and Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying a bleeding Hector Peterson who was slain in the student uprising in Soweto in 1976. 50 The image was widely published despite widespread practices of police taking down journalists' names; confiscating press cards and car keys; ordering journalists to report to police stations where they were interrogated, arrested, detained, and assaulted. 51
Antoinette and Mbuyisa Makhubu carrying a bleeding Hector Peterson
who was slain in the student uprising in Soweto in 1976
Photographer: Sam Nzima
The Emergence of Documentary Photography
By the mid-1970's resistance photography could be divided into two categories, photojournalism and what has come to be labeled "social documentary" photography. 52 Resistance photojournalists carried out the important task of documenting the violent and nonviolent resistance in action; however increased enforcement of censorship laws forced resistance photojournalists to be more creative in dodging the security forces. Photojournalists who went through the necessary government avenues and obtained permits to photograph in the townships (as most international photojournalists did) were only granted access to scenes that supported the government's policy of "separate development." 53 Social documentary photography or just documentary photography focused on people's stories that revealed the injustice and inhumanity of apartheid.
The line between "social documentary" or simply "documentary" resistance photography and resistance photojournalism is a fine one. In some cases the same photograph could be classified as either, depending on its presentation; exhibits and books tend to coincide with documentary photography while newspapers, magazines, and political pamphlets tend to correlate with photojournalism. Essentially they both highlight the injustice suffered under apartheid. The primary distinction between the two sub-genres is how glaring the injustice is made to appear in the photographs. Documentary photography seeks to more subtly expose the inhumanity of apartheid and allude to the injustice of apartheid with people's stories, while photojournalism's oppositional statements tend to be more direct. Another distinction between documentary photography and photojournalism is that photojournalism exists primarily to illustrate the news while documentary photographs are not as reliant on a text. The photographic primacy of documentary photography granted it greater aesthetic possibilities, with a different set of revolutionary capabilities.
The shift within resistance photography from photojournalism toward documentary photography was largely a response to the increased photographic repression of the mid-1970's following the squelching of the student uprising in Soweto in 1976. Omar Badsha made the connection explicit in his statement:
In South Africa, if you shoot just rubbish bins in the backyard it is a political statement because that shows the conditions in that area. Because the rubbish bin is right next to your bedroom, because your yard is so small...It is a dangerous thing to be a photographer at the moment. And the state and its effects on photographers has got to be understood. I think what will happen is people will just move to a slightly quieter theme rather than working with the high profile political photography. 54
Drum acted as the avant-guard for documentary photography as well. Despite Drum 's failure to document the mines, its complicated portrayal of black urban areas such as Sophiatown set an important precedent for opposing the stereotypes of Africans. Sally Gaule, scholar of South African photography at Witswatersrand University, writes, the photographs that Drum published are notable for a number of reasons; they reveal areas of social interaction that are not shown in other archives, and they transcend boundaries of race, offering an alternative to the mainstream of depictions of alterity found in most of South Africa. 55
Drum's focus on black urban regions not only illuminated the different class strata of the African community but also exposed symbiotic relationships between whites and blacks. One example is the presence of whites in shebeens, informal drinking establishments in African areas, which Ranjith Kally photographed for Drum in 1957. 56
Racial mixing was a trope often employed by documentary photographers. David Goldblatt and Ernest Cole made many images revealing an intimacy between different racial groups. (Include Cole image on p.12 of Gaule and Goldblatt on p.15 - but from special collections) These images directly opposed the fundamental premise of apartheid, racial separation, through the affectionate touches of each of the inter-racial pairs.
Documentary photographers also highlighted the exploitative nature of race relations by juxtaposing races in their images. Photographs emphasizing the exploitative basis of inter-racial interaction took the opposite tack of intimate racial mixing by showing the viewer apartheid's inhumanity rather than the humanity it denied. Almost any image of an African at work in the presence of his/her white "baas" intimated the injustices Africans suffered as victims of apartheid.
The photograph, Afternoon tea being served to two men repairing a car on a pavement in Fairview, Johannesburg, made by David Goldblatt in 1965 is a poignant example of racial exploitation. (insert picture here - from special collections) The photograph eloquently speaks to the extremely unequal power relationship between whites and Africans. The laboring African woman is bent over in a very subservient position and her face is concealed, while the two white men are standing waiting to be served revealing their own individual expressions to Goldblatt's camera. 57
The other major theme of early documentary photography, besides racial mixing was exploitative labor conditions, particularly in the mines. On this theme Drum cannot claim to be the point of origin. Drum's owner Jim Bailey's conflict of interest between the investigative reporting style of the magazine and his family's history of financing the mines in South Africa kept Drum from exploring the world of mine labor. David Goldblatt is the best know of the early mining photographers. Goldblatt photographed in and around the mines from 1965 to 1970. His work On the Mines, mixes portraits of various members of the mining community, with dramatic pictures within the shafts, with geographic pictures of the mines and the mining towns. Since On the Mines , mining has recurred as a theme in documentary photography.
Contributions to the Liberation Struggle
The combination of resistance photojournalism that chronicled and grew with the resistance movement and documentary photography that revealed the inhumanity of apartheid, helped to mobilize opposition efforts within South Africa. Sam Radithlalo wrote, "Africans closer to the ghettoes were not immune to starvation, constant and unremitting harassment and an often fatalistic acceptance of it all." 58 Resistance photography countered the allure of resigning to the stark reality of apartheid by exhibiting and celebrating efforts to oppose the government. By enabling Africans to see their brethren struggling against apartheid, resistance photography, like the photo-essay on the Defiance Campaign done by Drum in October of 1952, partly countered the fatalism that was antithetical to the liberation struggle. Omar Badsha commented, "It is only when you have hope that you will fight. You know that you will win...The kids now that are being shot all over the place. What makes them go. It's not anger, it is hope." 59
Photographs served as mobilization tools for the ANC and other opposition groups. Staffrider 's editors write:
An alternative press exists through which the visual element can help inform and mobilise. There are general publications ranging from newspapers to magazines which are open to another view. Posters, calendars, and informal exhibitions help qualify messages at meetings and other gatherings within the political and social process. 60
When the ANC and other oppositional organizations were banned, photography partly assumed the role of uniting and mobilizing the opposition. Photographs accompanied Nelson Mandela's statement in Drum 's August issue of 1952 "We Defy." 61 Omar Badsha commented, "photography becomes an integral part of education, not as information, but an education, mobilization, call it what you will. 62 Resistance photographer, Chris Ledechowski elaborated on photography as a tool for national mobilization, "If the people in the Transvaal and the Cape can do it, we can do it also. If they can be organized, then we can be organized." 63
Beyond their direct political value, resistance photographs played the important role of subverting the colonial photographic discourse. Kerry Tremain wrote, "Documentary photographers often see things that do not officially exist. Indignities. Cruelties." 64 Resistance photographers by overcoming their own blind spots began the process of deconstructing the deeply rooted psychology of apartheid. As far as photography is "a conduit and agent of ideology" it challenged and gradually subverted apartheid. 65
South African poet Christopher Van Wyk said in an interview in 1979, "we have to respond to these horrors by finding metaphors which will not only sustain our people in the struggle but will also undercut the oppressive grip of the State." The tandem of resistance photojournalism and documentary photography contributed to the necessary sustenance and subversion Van Wyk spoke about. The years between 1946 and 1976 saw the development of resistance photojournalism and the emergence of resistance documentary photography. They girded the popular consciousness for the full throes of resistance by highlighting the early stages of the resistance movement, and began to illuminate the blind spots created by the policies of apartheid.