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25 Years

Refusal of light: Photographs and political funerals in 1980s South Africa

Fri, 11/02/2018 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Event Location: 

Professor Patricia Hayes, NRF SARChI Chair in Visual History & Theory, Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

ICGC Visiting Scholar Fall 2018 


Abstract: Photographs that document events often become associated with normative ways of seeing historically. With its strong tradition of documentary photography at turning-point events such as in Sharpeville or Soweto, South Africa offers a striking case in point. Research on photography during the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s highlights the documentation of social conditions, political demonstrations, police repression and above all political funerals. Such photography lends itself to grand narratives of nationalist redemption after suffering. This talk proposes a different approach that explores the rejects of anti-apartheid photography. Due to repetition or lack of demand, many photographers failed to develop their films and put them aside indefinitely. But much can be learned from photographs that did not cross the boundary into light. In a country whose history of liberation is tied to iconic photographic tropes of racialised suffering and redemption in a modernist narrative of the emergence of the nation, the paper explores questions related to an underworld of the unseen.