23 September 2021 Volume :9 Issue :41

The Power of Documentary Photography

The Power of Documentary Photography
The poster depicts a mother mourning the death of her United Democratic Front supporting son who was abducted and slain in the “Natal War”, Mpophomeni. KwaZulu-Natal. 1987 and a busker working outside King’s Park rugby stadium after the game, while Shark’s fans rush home for another cold beer, Durban, 2010.

An exhibition and community engagement series entitled Revelation. The Power of Documentary Photography opens at the Durban Art Gallery on 23 September and runs until 10 November. Presented by Alliance Française de Durban and the Durban Art Gallery, in partnership with the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and UKZN’s Centre for Visual Methodologies for Social Change (CVMSC), it is a visual dialogue between two generations of South African documentary photographers, Mr Cedric Nunn and Mr Samora Chapman. The series is curated by Dr Ingrid Bamberg from the CVMSC.

Nunn and Chapman’s work captures the daily struggles and triumphs of the people of KwaZulu-Natal and presents a photographic journey from the remote rural areas of Zululand to the streets of central Durban. Revelations poses a number of important questions through reflection and comparison between fleeting moments of ordinary life, captured three decades apart.

Both photographers have spent many years documenting the accomplishments and challenges of ordinary people and have been involved in various educational and photography projects. Their combined body of work is an active agent of social change. Their choice of subjects falls outside the range of focus of mainstream media and public interest - people whose lives and experiences are beyond the public’s gaze and whose dreams have been deferred. Although it documents suffering, poverty and exploitation, their work evokes the strength of the human spirit. Their photographs document resilience and disillusion, but first and foremost agency - a time suspended between frustration and hope.

Born in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, and member of the legendary collective agency Afrapix during the apartheid era, Nunn’s collection The Hidden Years sought to portray a process towards liberation in the 1980s and 1990s. He is committed ‘to contributing to societal change that will leave a positive legacy for the children of Africa.’

Chapman, who was born and raised in Durban, is a writer, photographer and visual artist, who strives to ‘get under the skin of the city, finding the beauty and the humanity between the hard urban edges, with an artist’s eye.’ He recently worked with the Denis Hurley Centre and documented the plight of homeless people in Durban under the COVID-19 lockdown in a series called Street Dreamers.

The artists and project leaders plan to engage with different members of local communities during the exhibition via a series of workshops, masterclasses, roundtables and seminars with emerging photographers, students, photographic enthusiasts and researchers in visual arts and in the social sciences using visual methodologies as a form of research and expression. These activities will be facilitated by Bamberg.

After the inaugural season in Durban, the project will travel to Luanda, Angola and throughout South Africa with the support of the Alliance Française network, and finally to France, where it will be hosted by the collective gallery Negpos in Nîmes.

Revelations is a project of Alliance Française de Durban, supported by eThekwini Municipality’s Heritage Department through the Durban Art Gallery and Local History Museums; IFAS; the Negpos collective in Nîmes, the CVMSC, and others.

For more information, contact Alliance Française de Durban - admin@durban.alliance.org.za – 031 312 9582.

Revelations is at the Durban Art Gallery, 2nd Floor, City Hall Smith Street entrance (opposite The Playhouse), in the Durban city centre. Gallery hours: Monday-Friday 08h30 to 15h00. The gallery is no longer open on weekends.

Words: CVMSC and partners of the Revelations project

Photographs: Cedric Nunn and Samora Chapman

Poster: Dahlia Maubane


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