Ernest Cole Documentary

Ernest Cole Documentary

Check out the latest offering at JAG - a documentary on Ernest Cole.

If you had seen the Ernest Cole Exhibition at JAG, you might have made some assumptions about the artist. I for one assumed that this photographer's works were first and foremost political pieces. And that the man who took those powerful images and who was forced into exile, where he eventually died, was a powerful Goliath of a man. These assumptions were put to rest when I went to a documentary screening chronicling Ernest Cole's life, photography and influences.

The documentary, which is largely told through the eyes of those who knew Cole best, is eye opening; not only because it sheds light on Cole, but also because their words help to bring the era of the 50s to life.



I discovered that Cole's work was actually more about the human condition than the political situation of the Apartheid era. His photographs were works of every day documentation, and not just political documentation. The film highlights how Cole photographed what he saw. Choosing to simply depict the world around him rather than make a statement; political or otherwise. For Cole, photography was as much about the fascination of the medium, as it was about the scenes he shot.

His subject matter ranged from Africans in their township environment, and rare scenes of black and white interaction, to images of objectification, domestic workers, miners and children.  Another assumption I had was that Cole was as large in stature as his works were. In actuality, his friends and colleagues allude to him being of diminutive stature. This also answers how he was able to capture the scenes he did. Cole had the ability to blend into his surroundings un-noticed, this "ninja- like ability" as Jurgen Schadeberg describes it, was the key to much of his success in capturing the photographs he wanted.





 The film illustrates how the completion of House of Bondage - a book he had being working on in secret while in South Africa and one he sought to complete while abroad - became his main driving force.  However, life in New York was a hash reality check for Cole. He had initially seen the States as a Utopia, but the US in the 1950s was not that far removed from the life of segregation in South Africa. Separated from those he knew and loved, coupled with his new-found isolation and the feeling of hopelessness once his book was completed, led to the psychological breakdown of this artist. He died of cancer in 1990 soon after the release of Mandela.  

This documentary is must see for anyone who's interested in photography or the man himself.

The next doccie screening is on the 17th of November, from 2pm to 3pm, followed by a panel discussion.

The photographic exhibition will be on show until November 21st. 

If you like this idea, check out the 48 Hour Film Festival winner!







by Nolan Stevens
The life and times of famous photographer, Ernest Cole


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