Call and Response

Call and Response, by Cedric Nunn, Hatje Cantz, €20.95.

In the 1980s, many documentary photographers in South Africa were mobilized and marshaled into taking sides against apartheid. This activist stand was clearly manifested in the work of Afrapix, a photographic collective founded by photographers such as Paul Weinberg. In 1981 at the age of 24, Cedric Nunn started taking photographs, and soon joined Afrapix. Like many, he would feel the need to witness the social and political consequences of apartheid. Afrapix came out of the Culture and Resistance festival and symposium. In this new book by Nunn, Rory Bester reminds us that by 1977, there were only 220 ‘black journalists’ compared to 3,761 ‘white journalists’. The first group of images by Nunn covers the period from 1982-84, as he focused on the state of neglect, dilapidation, and general poverty in KwaZulu-Natal. Then, until 1990, as political unrest intensifies and the State of Emergency is imposed, his pictures are characterized more by funeral processions, mourners and the destruction of dwellings. The last period ends with the release of political prisoners and the first democratic elections in 1994. Nunn’s most powerful images are about individuals and lives in places far from the noise of rallies and parades. KwaZulu-Natal has holds no secrets from him, in particular during apartheid, when he was capturing the minutiae of life in his native rural South Africa.

His ability to let the individuals portrayed fill the space in the frame, brings a special texture to his pictures. They’re full of complexity and humanity. After 30 years of work, he is among the masters of his league. That what’s the book is all about.