Ernest Cole (1940–90), one of South Africa’s first black photojournalists, passionately pursued his mission to tell the world what it was like to be black under apartheid. Cole set out at great personal risk to produce a book that would communicate to the rest of the world the corrosive effects of South Africa’s apartheid system. In 1966 Cole was forced to leave South Africa. His book, House of Bondage, was published in 1967, and immediately banned there.
Ernest Cole Photographer brings together 113 original, extremely rare black-and-white silver gelatin prints from Cole’s stunning archive, now housed at the Hasselblad Foundation, which toured the exhibition across South Africa in 2010-11. Ernest Cole Photographer is seen in the United States for the first time at the Fowler Museum.
Inspired by the photo-essays of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Cole documented scenes of life during apartheid from 1958–66. He captured everyday images such as lines of migrant mineworkers waiting to be discharged from labor, a schoolchild studying by candlelight, parks and benches for “Europeans Only,” young men arrested and handcuffed for entering cities without their passes, worshippers in their Sunday best, and crowds crammed into claustrophobic commuter trains. Together with Cole’s own incisive and illuminating captions, these striking photographs bear stark witness to a wide spectrum of experiences during the apartheid era.
This exhibition comes at a time of renewed interest in apartheid-era photographs demonstrated by major U.S. exhibitions including South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Billy Monk presently on view at SF MOMA and Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, which recently closed at the International Center of Photography.
Fowler Museum Website