Through a dark lens

The flagship exhibition of the trio, all sponsored by the Gauteng Tourism Authority, is aimed at foreign delegates attending the summit and takes place at the viewing deck of Johannesburg International airport.

The exhibition features the work of seasoned documentary photographer Peter Magubane and is endorsed by Unicef. Renowned for his work during the apartheid years, Magubane’s focus in this exhibition is child labour in South Africa. A potent (and brave) message for transit lounge passengers. Magubane spares no thought for pleasantries in depicting three decades of child labour, but still manages a positive spin. He includes evocative images of street children who he helped reunite with their families. An indication of just how deeply involved he becomes with his subject matter.

Among the photographs Magubane has selected to exhibit, one can expect to see instances of children (some as young as four years) working on farms, shovelling coal in Soweto’s coal yards and carrying heavy loads as shop assistants during the late 1970s through to the late 1980s. An image that stands out for its texture and lighting as well as its shocking story is focused on a young coal worker’s hands. One could mistake this child’s weathered and calloused hands for those of a man far beyond the formative age of 14 years.

The Magubane exhibition is balanced by a lighter look at life in the apartheid years by veteran photographers Alf Kumalo, Bob Gusani and Ralph Ndawo, taking place in Soweto. The work of the latter two photographers will posthumously include work never before exhibited. Included are Gusani’s photographs of jazz diva Dolly Rathebe and portraits of “The Americans” — according to Drum — Sophiatown’s most notorious gang.

The images with more of a political slant, include an impressive photograph by Kumalo of Winnie Mandela climbing the stairs to the Rivonia trial courtroom defiantly dressed in a black suit, yellow shirt and green hat. Ndawo captures an intimate picture of the veiled face of Veronica Sobukwe at the funeral of her husband, Robert Sobukwe, in 1978.

The third exhibition is being held at the Ultrec sports grounds in Alexandria and showcases contemporary images of life in Alex by photographer Caroline Suzman. Suzman’s is the only one out the three exhibitions wholly in colour, which makes for a vivid and dramatic collection. Suzman, a Johannesburg-based photographer, is no stranger to Alex and is known to climb knee-deep into a truckload of chicken feet to capture “just the right angle”. No small task for a strict vegetarian. When asked what her idea of life in Alex is like she said: “Often sad and dark on the inside but surprisingly cheerful on the surface.”

Peter Magubane’s exhibition starts on August 26 and ends on September 30 at the viewing deck of Jo’burg airport. Alf Kumalo, Ralph Ndawo and Bob Gusani’s work will be exhibited at the Oppenheimer Towers in Soweto from August 26 until September 15. Caroline Suzman’s work will be exhibited at Ultrec Stadium, Alex from August 26 to September 15

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