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Ernest Cole Photographer

Ernest Cole was born in 1940 in Eersterust. Around 1960 his family was moved to Mamelodi under the Group Areas Act. Cole was a determined young man who at an early age decided to become a photographer. He started working at Drum magazine in 1958, became a freelance photographer in 1959 and during the early 1960s he started his extensive and thorough documentation of how the Africans suffered under apartheid. In 1966 he decided to leave the country with his material and a dream of making a book that he knew was impossible to do in South Africa. After having spent the summer in Europe he got a Visa for the USA where he got his book 'House of Bondage' published in August 1967. The book was immediately banned in South Africa, and so was he, so he had to spend the rest of his life in exile. In 1990 he died in New York, a week after Mandela was released from prison. Despite his very short photographic career, Ernest Cole is one of the most influential and important photographers in South Africa.

Ernest Cole, Photographer will not attempt a re-creation of House of Bondage. It will for the first time enable Cole to be seen in the perspective of international photography where he surely deserves an honoured place, not simply for his remarkable courage and determination in the face of state oppression but for the perceptiveness of his seeing eye and his ability to put what he saw into photographs of remarkable rigour, subtlety and elegance. These qualities were often subordinated to the need for the strongest possible anti-apartheid statement in House of Bondage. Many of the photographs, which were cropped in the book for their maximum political effect, will now be seen un-cropped for the first time.

Our extensive Ernest Cole collection includes a broad variety of Cole’s extensive production and it clearly shows his skills as a photographer. Inspired by poets, writers, artists and musicians, and with an astonishing sensibility for form and how to use natural light he has made one of the finest and most comprehensive documentations ever. The pictures are really stunning and touching.  

The exhibition Ernest Cole, Photographer had its grand opening at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa, on Sunday 19 September 2010.

The book, Ernest Cole, Photographer, which is copublished with Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, Germany, will soon be available in the book stores.

/ Gunilla Knape

A selection of Ernest Cole's photographs. If you have any information about the pictures in the above link, please add it under Comments.