As a young man in his 20s, black South African photojournalist Ernest Cole created a unique pictorial record of life under apartheid. Like so many photographers documenting dangerous spots and situations around the globe, Cole took huge risks and came up with courageous, clever ways of making photographs in restricted places like the notorious South African gold mines.
Cole went into exile in the United States in 1966, where he died in 1990. Many of his prints were thought to be lost (though the images lived on in his one terrific book, “House of Bondage”).
Luckily, a suitcase full of Cole’s work surfaced in Sweden, somehow preserved in the Hasselblad Foundation’s archives. In collaboration with South African photographer David Goldblatt, the Foundation has mounted an exhibit of these powerful images. The show opened in Johannesburg last September, will travel throughout South Africa in 2011, then make its way to Europe and the United States.
Check out the exhibit if it comes to a gallery or museum near you. And take a look at this selection of Cole’s work – it’s well worth it. “He wasn’t just brave,” says David Goldblatt. “He wasn’t just enterprising. He was a supremely fine photographer.”