British photographer Rankin explores South Africa’s rich photographic tradition in a new documentary for BBC Four. From stark images of war to pouting teenagers modelling Johannesburg fashions, Rankin - who is usually to be found snapping celebrities and fashion models- follows in the footsteps of some of South Africa’s most important photojournalists.
He encounters Alf Kumalo, one of the first professional black photojournalists who worked at Drum Magazine, known as “the first black lifestyle magazine in Africa,” which launched in 1951. He got a taste of youth culture as well, taking to the streets of Jo'Burg by fashion photographer Lolo Veleko to check out the latest trends. Rankin also met David Goldblatt, an internationally renowned photographer, and one of the key figures in the documentation of Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa.
Rankin also met the two surviving members of The Big Bang Club, Greg Marinovich and Joao Silver. They form half of a quartet of photographers whose reportage during the violent transition to democracy in the 1990s formed the basis for an autobiography, which was made into an eponymous film last year. They describe the tragic death of their colleague Ken Oosterbroek, who was killed in action, and the subsequent suicide of Kevin Carter, who is thought to have been suffering from survivor’s guilt.
But Rankin’s trip to South Africa was not all about unlocking the painful past. He also explored the unique tradition of studio photography, a custom where Africans have their portraits taken (often in comedic poses) against a variety of painted backdrops and brightly coloured curtains. Rankin worked with former students of Alf Kumalo’s photography college to recreate such shoots in the style of Bobson Studio, a famous studio which catered to mainly Zulu clientele and was established in 1961.
South Africa in Pictures airs on BBC Four at 9pm on 27 April as part of the Wonderful Africa season on BBC Four.Reuse content