Alf Kumalo, South Africa’s veteran press photographer, still has an office at The Star newspaper in Johannesburg, even though he does not work there anymore. That is where he is attempting to sort through fifty years’ work. Two large prints hang above his personal disorder. One shows white policemen’s dogs snarling at two black women in 1976, the photographer’s shadow projected right in the middle of the scene. The other shows passers-by in Johannesburg. It was taken on the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, as indicates the half-torn newspaper headline on a stand in the foreground. That day, Alf Kumalo wanted to take part in the mourning in his own way. His lens transforms the black passers-by into demonstrators.
Did apartheid hinder your work?
Apartheid was a blessing, at least in the respect that a photographer had to cover everything: sport, society events, architecture, and the arts We often risked our skins; it’s true. Students stole my camera and watch during the 16 June 1976 riots. They didn’t want me to photograph them for fear that the photographs would be published and that the police would recognise them.
Has the end of apartheid changed anything in your approach?
I take photos all the time. I have never taken as many photos as on the day Nelson Mandela took office. I had three cameras. I don’t know how I managed; I was so moved. It was incredible, extraordinary, to see that change. People have often asked me why I don’t go into politics. But for me photography is politics. It is much more powerful the simple words. Two of my photos helped to get two political prisoners released.
What are you working on at the moment?
Three projects: my autobiography, opening a photography school in Soweto named after me, and a piece on Aids. Our community needs a shock treatment. People think that Aids isn’t all that bad because people with Aids look so normal. I am going to photograph the national football star, Siswe Motaung, who is sick. It’s important to photograph people who everybody knows were strong and who are now finished.
Do you belong to the Sophiatown school of photography?
Yes and no. Sophiatown was only one small district that’s been made into a legend. Everything that seems intelligent has to have come from Sophiatown. It’s a complete distortion of reality. Peter Magubane comes from this district, but I lived in Alexandra, which was the Soweto of the time.
Does contemporary photography strike you as being racially segregated?
More and more whites are taking an interest in black people. The black community offers the best images; it’s very photogenic. It would be much more difficult for a black person to work on the white community, unless they focused on the underprivileged It is easier to take very good photos in our districts. If you are creative, you can take strong images in no matter what slum. South Africa is very rich from a visual point of view.
///Article N° : 5523