The development of a critical practice in post-apartheid South African photography

Josephy, Svea Valeska (2001-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: South African photography in the 20th century was dominated by the documentary genre. This genre has its roots in 19th century Modernist and colonialist belief in the accuracy of the camera as a tool of representation, and faith in the camera's objectivity and ability to present empirical evidence and 'truth'. These positivist notions were carried into South African documentary practice during the apartheid era. Apartheid-era South African documentary photography was particularly focused on exposing the socio-political ills of apartheid in order to gain support for the liberation movement, both locally and abroad. It was serious and didactic in its purpose and did not allow for creative responses to the medium, as the camera was seen as a 'weapon' of the struggle. The 1990s saw the beginning of the emergence of a liberated South Africa. The documentary imperative to record and expose apartheid practices was now increasingly redundant. Photographers, particularly after the elections, were faced with a 'crisis' of sorts in documentary as the main focus of their subject had been removed. The upshot of this was that documentary photographers had to find new subjects, which they had to approach in different ways. The arrival of Postmodernism in South Africa coincided with the demise of apartheid. It had in essence been kept at bay by what seemed to be the more pressing issues of the struggle. Postmodern art and its theoretical base, post-structuralism, argued for an erosion of the previously fixed concepts of genre, and allowed for the mixing of the previously separate categories of 'documentary' and 'art'. There was a radical questioning of previously fixed constructs of race, identity, class and gender. The erosion of the documentary imperative to record allowed for more creative responses to the medium than ever before. Artists were able to experiment technically, with video, multi-media, digital photography, historical processes, colour, composite work and interactive pieces. In this thesis I explore the above-mentioned shift and situate my practical work within this contemporary paradigm.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Op die gebied van fotografie is die toneel in Suid-Afrika in die 20ste eeu deur die dokumentêre genre oorheers. Die genre het sy oorsprong in 'n Modernistiese en kolonialistiese, 19de-eeuse siening, naamlik dat die kamera 'n objektiewe en akkurate voorstellingsmiddel is waarmee empiriese bewyse ingesamel en die "waarheid" uitgebeeld kan word. Hierdie positiwistiese uitkyk is tydens die apartheidsjare op die dokumentêre praktyk in Suid-Afrika oorgedra. Tydens hierdie era was dokumentêre fotografie daarop gemik om die sosiopolitieke euwels van Suid-Afrika onder apartheid bloot te lê, ten einde sowel binnelands as buitelands vir die bevrydingsbewegings steun te werf Met hierdie gewigtige en didaktiese doel voor oë, was daar min ruimte vir 'n kreatiewe hantering van die medium, aangesien die kamera as 'n "wapen" in die stryd teen apartheid gesien is. Die 1990's het die begin van Suid-Afrika se bevryding ingelui. Die dokumentêre imperatief om apartheidsdade op rekord te stel en aan die groot klok te hang, het vervaag. Fotograwe het 'n soort "krisis" in die gesig gestaar, veral na die verkiesing, want die onderwerp van hulle fokus het verdwyn. Die resultaat was dat dokumentêre fotograwe nuwe temas moes vind, wat hulle vanuit 'n ander oogpunt moes benader. In Suid-Afrika het die koms van Postmodernisme met die ondergang van apartheid saamgeval. Voorheen is dit in wese oorskadu deur oënskynlik belangriker kwessies rondom die "struggle". Postmoderne kuns en die teoretiese grondslag daarvan, naamlik post-strukturalisme, bepleit 'n beweging weg van die vaste begrip van genre wat voorheen gegeld het. Hiervolgens raak 'n vermenging van die voorheen afsonderlike kategorieë 'dokumentêr' en 'kuns' moontlik. Dit bring ook 'n radikale bevraagtekening mee van die konstrukte ras, identiteit, klas en geslag, wat voorheen as vaste indelings beskou is. Die verflouing van die dokumentêre imperatief om dinge op rekord te stel, maak dit moontlik om op 'n meer kreatiewe wyse as ooit tevore met die medium om te gaan. Kunstenaars kan nou met die tegniese sy van fotografie eksperimenteer: video, multimedia, digitale fotografie, historiese prosesse, kleur, saamgestelde werke en interaktiewe stukke. In hierdie tesis kyk ek op verkennende wyse na die veranderings waarna hierbo verwys word, en situeer ek my praktiese werk binne hierdie kontemporêre paradigma.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/52508
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