From the streets of the country’s townships to its hallways of power, Magubane has dedicated more than half a century to capturing the story of South Africa through his lens. First the struggle against apartheid as a fearless photojournalist, then South Africa’s transition to democracy as Madiba’s official photographer, and today, the cultural traditions and practices of the Rainbow Nation.
Naturally, some of the most poignant of these images were taken between the start of Magubane’s career in 1954 and the culmination of the struggle in 1994. It is these photographs that are on display as part of A struggle without documentation is no struggle – a famous phrase Magubane once told an angry mob during the 1976 Soweto uprising when they demanded he stop taking photos of the riots.
Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art and Museum Curator, says it is fitting that the Absa Gallery begins 2014 with this moving exhibition that documents just how far South Africa has come. “Twenty years of democracy is a major milestone, and one worthy of celebrating. But we must not forget from where we have come, and the struggle that was fought for the freedom our country enjoys today. Peter’s exhibition reminds us of this. It is significant not only because it allows us to reflect on this history but – as it was born out of a time of suppression – also learn from it. These were the pictures many of us did not see, and the stories we did not hear. Now we have the opportunity to do both, and that is very powerful.”
Magubane embarked on his distinguished career in 1954 with Drum magazine, which took him to the heart of anti-apartheid defiance campaigns. After the Drum years he exhibited in Europe and then studied in the United States before returning home. In 1966 he joined the Rand Daily Mail newspaper, where he worked until 1980. It was during that time that he was arrested and spent 586 days – from June 1969 to 1971 – in solitary confinement. He was later banned as a photographer for five years. From the 1980s, he also worked for Time magazine. In 1990 Magubane was selected as Nelson Mandela’s official photographer to chronicle South Africa’s transition to a new political dispensation.
Magubane became the first black South African to receive an award for photography – in the 1958 best pictures of the year contest. Since then he has received numerous accolades for his dedication and outstanding contribution to the world of photography. Among these are the Mother Jones-Leica Lifetime Achievement Award; the Martin Luther King Luthuli Award; a Fellowship from the Tom Hopkinson School of Journalism; and four Honorary Doctorates from various South African universities.
A struggle without documentation is no struggle – a retrospective of Magubane’s work from 1954 to 1994 – ran from 18 February-13 March 2014 at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg. *The exhibition will then be hosted from 29 March-5 April 2014 at the Prins Vincent Building in Oudtshoorn as part of the Absa KKNK cultural festival, which also celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2014. Following this, the exhibition will travel to other parts of South Africa,” concludes Bayliss.