Celebrating 30 years of South African Engaged Photography

May 24, 2019


It’s been 30 years since South-African photographer David Goldblatt founded the non-profit photography education center Market Photo Workshop (MPW) in Johannesburg in 1989. An exhibition at Bronx Documentary Center in New York honors MPW’s three decades of photography, multimedia training programs, and public programming to help bring photography to the forefront of social consciousness in South Africa and around the world.

Lefa on duty, as he tries to stop his cow from exiting the kraal to go to the open field. Outskirts of Orlando West. © Kabelo Mokoena, 22 years old. Soweto, South Africa

Photography was introduced to Africa via the colonial gaze, but MPW has helped shift the dynamic to new stories that challenge former degrading and racist perspectives. Activism and liberation movements during the times of oppression in the late 20th century encouraged journalism and documentary photography to thrive in South Africa.

A student dances in front of a burning bus as violence between University of Witwatersrand students and police spill in to Braamfontein during the Fees Must Fall protest. Students across the country are fighting for free, decolonized education. © Rosetta Msimango, 26 years old. Vosloorus, South Africa.
Vodacom Towers, the most significant building in Hillbrow, a dedicated lift takes you to the top of the tower for a view unlike any other in Johannesburg from the top tower you see the incredible vista over the city dense cityscape unfolding below you and outward countryside and beyond. © Bongani Siziba, 33 years old. Zimbabwe

As people fought for their independence, photography was used as a tool to challenge the power structure’s narratives and show the realities of key political and historical events. The work of MPW has also become a powerful resource in documenting current issues, which helps set the conversation for the future—and gives individuals the power to create their own narratives.

South African Commuters through the window of a taxi leaving Noord Taxi Rank at the end of the day. Johannesburg. © Renata Larroyd, 29 years old. Florianopolis

These new images and narratives reached around the globe, crossing boundaries of language, culture and background. In recent decades, South African photography and MPW have been at the center of these timelines and have played a key role in creating social consciousness in the minds of viewers. The cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is relevant in this context.

This image is from the series "White Fear." © Jacques Nelles, 26 years old Pretoria, South Africa

Barriers are broken and worlds are brought together by single images. With this in mind, the photo community has an opportunity now to look at the MPW alumni who have come through its courses, mentorship and fellowship programs to present the stories and new narratives they have created. The images presented in this exhibition aim to show the contemporary role of photography in South Africa and explore how photographers who studied at MPW view their communities and the society at large.

This image is from the series “MOOKER." © John Wessel, 32 years old. Free State South Africa

Transitions: South Africa

April 19 – May 26, 2019
Bronx Documentary Center
614 Courtlandt Avenue, Bronx NY 10451


Recent posts
Source to Sea: Ansley West Rivers
Source to Sea, on view at Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah, GA is a solo exhibition with Ansley West Rivers (American, b. 1983) focused on her Seven Rivers photographic series. Also on view will be large-scale and painterly maps of the seven rivers made using historic photographic processes such as cyanotype, palladium, and van dyke printing.
Identity, Desire, and Connection Through Portraits of Jess Dugan and Others
The Grunwald Gallery at Indiana University is pleased to present Every Breath We Drew, photographs by Jess Dugan. This series has been widely published and noted as one of the most important series of photographs depicting intimacy and identity. The exhibit will open on August 6 and continue through October 4, 2019. The artist will be present on September 13 to participate in several public programs including a McKinney Visiting Artist Lecture at 5pm followed by a reception.