George Hallett was born in 1942 District Six, Cape Town. He then moved to Hout Bay, Cape Town to live with his grandparents. Thereafter he moved to live in Silvertown, Athlone, with his parents. Hallett attended South Peninsula High School. His early inspiration to become a photographer came from the movies he saw at the Friday night film show at the primary school in the fishing village of Hout Bay. On the way home, as friends enacted scenes from the films, Hallett would be thinking about the camera angles, composition and dramatic lighting that impressed him in the films.
At the age of 20 he began a correspondence course in photography with the City and Guilds of London. He freelanced for the famous South African magazine Drum, but the politics of segregation made it virtually impossible to find other work.He lived an unsettled existence for many years, living and working in a variety of capacities abroad in different cities in the UK, France, Holland and the United States before finally re-settling in his hometown in 1995. As well as working as a documentary photographer, he has practised small-scale farming near Perpignan in France, designed book covers in London, UK and has lectured and exhibited widely in other parts of Europe and the USA.
Before leaving apartheid South Africa in 1970 and going into self-imposed exile, Hallett was persuaded by the author James Matthews to photograph District Six, an area that the apartheid regime declared as white, forcing all black inhabitants to be evacuated and their property destroyed. Hallett's poignant documentation was donated to the District Six Museum.In 1970, Hallett moved to London where he made contact with other South African exiles such as Alex La Guma, Pallo Jordan, Dudu Pukwana and Dumile. Working as a freelance photographer, he was sent by 'The Times Educational Supplement' to Handsworth, Birmingham, where he took pictures of all aspects of life there. He freelanced for The Times Newspapers and designed book covers for Heinemann Educational Books for over 12 years. During this period he had his first exhibition in Amsterdam under the auspices of the World Council of Churches.
In 1974 he moved to France where he worked as a freelance photographer, designer and farmer. Over the next ten years Hallett lived and worked in Zimbabwe, Amsterdam and Paris, and taught at the University of Illinois, USA. He began working back in South Africa in 1990 and in 1994 was commissioned by the ANC to photograph the movement's coming to power. A series of photographs of Nelson Mandela taken during the elections that year won him a Golden Eye Award from the World press Photo in Amsterdam. Hallett returned to live in Cape Town, South Africa in 1995. George Hallett's photographs have been exhibited in and collected by museums and galleries in America, Norway, Germany, Amsterdam, Paris, Sweden and his native South Africa.
Hallet's exhibition, 'Handsworth Through Southern Eyes' at the Soho House Museum Birmingham in 2002 to 2003 revisited his early years in the UK. The show was the first in a series organised by The Exchange Project, which is partly funded by Visiting Arts and which seeks to encourage dialogue between the UK and South Africa by bringing together communities and cultural institutions in the twinned cities of Birmingham and Johannesburg.
Hallett's latest exhibition titled, "George Hallett" is composed of two bodies of work – “District Six” and “Exiles” – that archive figures, communities and events that would otherwise be lost or obscured from the public psyche.
Principal solo exhibitions
- George Hallett, Gallery MOMO Johannesburg, 2019
- George Hallett, Gallery MOMO, Cape Town, 2018
- The Making of an African Master, Gallery MOMO, Cape Town, 2018
- George Hallett: Portraits of Nelson Mandela | Dégagements Henry Le Bœuf | Brussel, 2018
- Geodesy -33.923429,18.413935, Gallery MOMO, Cape Town, 2016
- A Nomad's Harvest, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, 2014
- 1994 Elections and Mandela's Vision | Parliament of Bremen; and touring, Germany | Impressions of Italy, Artscape, Cape Town. Portraits from Exile, Bonhams, London, 2010
- A Photographic Journey | Helderberg Photographic Society | Western Cape, South Africa, 2009
- Portraits of African Writers | Rhodes University, Grahamstown | South Africa, 2007
- Portraits of African Writers | Cape Town International Book Fair | Cape Town, 2006
- South African Exiles of the '70s and '80s in Europe | Spitz Gallery | London, 2005
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Exhibition | Herbert Art Gallery and Museum | Coventry, UK, 2004
- Handsworth Through Southern Eyes, Soho House Museum, UK, 2002-2003
- Red Cross Children's Hospital | Cavendish Square, Cape Town, 2002
- IVè Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine de Bamako, 2001
- Dance for All | The Aschegach Gallery | Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2001
- Dance for All, Cultural Centre, UK 2000
- The Face of Bo-Kaap | Bo-Kaap Museum, Cape Town. Metropolitan Life, Metropolitan Life Headquarters, Bellville | Cape Town, 1999
- Metropolitan Life headquarters | Cape Town, 1999
- Transformation, Elections | Irma Stern Museum | Cape Town, 1994 – 1995
- Afrika Centrum, Cadier en Keer | Maastricht, Netherlands, 1989
- Künstforum der Sozialdemokratie | Bonn, Germany, 1988
- University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign | United States, 1985
- Howard University | Washington DC; Michigan State University, Lansing; Emory University, Georgia; Tuskegee Institute, Georgia; Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; United States, 1983
- Women of Southern Africa | Conference Centre, Harare, Zimbabwe. McKinley Foundation, University of Illinois | United States, 1982
- Atelier Six | Ceret, France, 1980
- Portraits of African Writers | Frankfurter Buchmesse, Germany. Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, 1979
- Midi Libre journal | Perpignan, France, 1975
- Susan Loppert Graphics, London. Central London Polytechnic. John Hansard Gallery, Southampton University | England, 1973
- Anne Frank Huis, Amsterdam. (With Louis Maurice & Gerard Sekoto), Présence Africaine, Salle de La Siem, Paris. University of Brussels, 1972
- Westerkerk | Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1971
- The Artists' Gallery | Cape Town, 1970
- "Soweto - A South African Legend", Gasteig Kultuzentrum, Reis Museum, Willy Brant Haus, Stadhaus, Germany, Goethe Institute, Johannesburg, Regina Mundi Church, Soweto, 2001
- Henie Onstad, "Rhizomes of Memory", with David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng, Oslo, 2000
- ´Eye Africa Expo', The Castle, Cape Town, 1999
- 'Black Perspectives', SANLAM Gallery, Cape Town, 1999
- 'Cape Times One City Many Cultures', Blue Route Shopping Centre, Cape Town, 1999
- 'Lines of Sight: Perspectives on South African Photography', The National Gallery, Cape Town, 1999
- 'Recontres de la Photographie Africaine de Bamako', Bamako, 1999
- ´South African Architecture and Structures, portraits of survivors from District Six´, The Netherlands, South African Museum, SANLAM Gallery, Civic Centre, 1998
Publications by Hallett
- 1973: Cosmo Pieterse, Present Lives Future Becoming, London: Hickey Press.
- 1979: Images, Athlone, Cape Town: BLAC Publishing House.
- 1995: Rashid Lombard (ed.), Images of Change, Nolwazi Educational Publishers (photos by Hallett).
- 2000: Rhizomes of Memory-Tre Sydafrikanske Føtografer, with David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng, Oslo: Forlaget Press.
- 2004: Moving in Time, KMM Publishers (as project director and editor).
- 2006: Women by Women, Wits University Press (project director and editor with Neo Ntsoma and Robin Cromley). Y2Y Youth to Youth, 30 Years after Soweto, Wits University Press (project director and editor).
- 2006: Portraits of African Writers, Johannesburg; Wits University Press.
- 2007: District Six Revisited, Wits University Press (editor and contributing photographer, along with Clarence Coulson, Wilfred Paulse, Jackie Heynes, and graphics by Gavin Jantjes).
- 2007–08: Sawubona [in-flight magazine for SAA] (as photographic consultant).
- 2008: Mike Mzileni, All that Jazz (as photo editor, with Steven Macbeth)
- 2010: Rashid Lombard, Jazz Rocks (as editor and designer).
Publications with contributions by Hallett
- 1968: [Photographic essay, jazz images], Contrast, vol. 5.
- 1970: [Photographic essay, District Six] Contrast, Cape and Transvaal Printers.
- 1970s: Staffrider, Johannesburg.
- 1970s–'80s: Heinemann's African Writers Series book covers.
- 1973: Cosmo Pieterse, Present Lives Future Becoming, Hickey Press. include names of photographs.
- 1988: [Calendar], Holland Committee on South Africa.
- 1990: [Photographic Essay on South African Exile Artists], Leadership, vol. 9.
- 1991: South African Short Stories, Reader's Digest. "South Africa's New World", Leadership.
- 1995: World Press Photo, Thames & Hudson.
- 1996: [Calendar], Spoornet.
- 1998: Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull, Random House (book cover).
- 2000: Hein Willemse (ed.), More than Brothers: Peter Clarke & James Matthews at 70, Kwela Books. [Photo essay on Livingstone High School], Leadership, Hugh Murray.
- 2001: Zenzile Khoisan, Jacaranda Time, Garib Communications. George Makana Clark, "The Raw Man", Transition, Duke University Press. Keith Adams (ed.), We Came for Mandela: The Cultural Life of the Refugee Community in Cape Town, Footprints Publishers.
- 2003: Paul Faber, Group Portrait South Africa, Kwela Books & KIT Publishers.
- 2005: "Jazz Exiles Re-Initiation Concert", Classic Feel.
- 2006: Prince Mbusi Dube (ed.), Dumile Feni Retrospective, Wits University Press.
- 2007: Paul Weinberg (ed.), Then and Now, Eight South African Photographers, The Highveld Press. Ryland Fisher Race, Jacana Publishers.
- 2008: Christine Eyene, "The Human Face of History", Art South Africa, vol. 6, no 3. James Currey, Africa Writes Back, Wits University Press.
- 2009: Gavin Jantjes (ed.), Strengths and Convictions.