« Two photographers – one white and one black – were on the scene of one of South Africa’s first necklacings. A tire was put around the neck of a woman suspected of spying for the police and ignited. The white photographer, Greg Marinovitch, won a Pulitzer prize. The black photographer, Walter Daia, went to see a psychologist – he couldn’t bring himself to take the photo, it was too hard ». Peter McKenzie thus explains the difference that, in his opinion, still exists between white and black photographers in South Africa. This 46-year-old photographer of mixed race was one of the founders of the Afrapix agency set up in 1983. Working in semi-clandestinity for the South African Council of Churches, Afrapix, Afrascope’s (for film) younger sibling was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle with the unions.
« We sold our photos for 1 Rand to our regular clients, the biggest being the student union. The country was in turmoil, there was a state of emergency, the police would raid us all the time. I lost a lot of negatives like that – had them confiscated. »
For a long time fighting apartheid was his only reason for working. Peter McKenzie, like so many others, really questioned what he was doing after 1994. « So we began an introspection that we couldn’t previously allow ourselves. Although a trainer in photography at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg, Peter McKenzie still has difficulty in saying « I ». He was a curator for an exhibition of works by five South African photographers at the 1998 Rencontres de la photographie africaine in Bamako but still feels more comfortable with a collective « we ».
He has recently completed a huge group project about the children of the year 2000 in South Africa. For this project commissioned by the South African President, Peter McKenzie brought together 12 photographers of different origins four black photographers (Motlhalefi Mahlabe, Ruth Motau, Andrew Tshabangu, Sydney Seshebedi), four white photographers (Jodi Bieber, Chris Ledochowski, Thys Dullaart, Anna Zieminski), four photographers of mixed race (Cedric Nunn, Kathy Muick, Rafique Mayet and himself). The results of this politically correct selection are astounding. Whether showing the advancements or the failures of the current transformation process, the photos of children from all over the country are breathtaking and hold far more than mere aesthetic appeal. For Peter McKenzie, the most important thing about this exhibition is the revival of the community spirit that characterised the years of struggle. « The power in our photographs comes from the fact that were are together. We conceptualise what we do far more, we question ourselves about our heritage, our culture, the unity of the nation and our role in the current process. »
///Article N° : 5508