Ernest Cole’s ‘House of Bondage’

The South African photographer Ernest Cole is largely forgotten now. But in 1967 the publication of his “House of Bondage”–his mostly clandestine photographs of the workings and effects of Apartheid–by a New York publisher had major repercussions inside and outside the country. Cole had left South Africa the year before with only the negatives. The photographs are stark and powerful. Like the one, above, of recruits to gold mines around Johannesburg, “who had been lined up in a grimy room for a group examination.” Cole took the photograph “… after sneaking his camera into the mine inside his lunch bag.”  The white authorities were embarrassed and banned the book immediately.  Despite the fame, Cole died depressed and lonely in Harlem in 1990 aged 67. (A story for another day is that right before he left South Africa, Cole hurriedly had himself reclassified as coloured).  The point of this post is that the largest retrospective of his work is now being shown in Johannesburg, with plans to travel through the rest of South Africa and hopefully to the US, including New York City.

The New York Times. [h/t Jonathan Faull]

Further Reading

No more caricatures

Engaging seriously with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life could help us understand how South Africa got where it is and where it’s going.