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Photo symposium showcases South African apartheid


By Ashley Jenkins



It’s been almost two decades since South Africa was under apartheid, where racial segregation was upheld by law.

Now, a celebration of the photojournalism that captured the dark part of the country’s history is happening at IU.

A symposium led by photojournalists dealing with the topic “Documentary Photography and the South African Experience” will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

The event is free and open to the public.

“I hope it will grab the attention of people who want to think about how visual culture links past and present,” said Alex Lichtenstein, associate professor of history at IU and organizer of the symposium. “It should certainly be of great interest in anyone who pays attention to South African affairs.”

Speakers will include Santu Mofokeng, a prominent contemporary South African photographer, and John Edwin Mason, a historian of South African and United States photography from the University of Virginia.

Claude Cookman from the IU School of Journalism will also be present.

Cookman has researched and written about photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, who documented the dangers of apartheid in South Africa in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Her work will be featured in an exhibition curated by Lichtenstein, titled “Photos in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid in South Africa,” also in the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

“The beauty of the exhibition is it shows us all the work she did in a larger context than her work for Life Magazine,” Cookman said.

He said Bourke-White’s tenacity for exposing the raw truth helped her get the shots that catapulted her into social documentary fame.

“She was pushy, and she normally got what she wanted,” Cookman said. “She was a role model for many photojournalists, especially women.”

Lichtenstein said the symposium will be a meeting of some of the best minds on the subject of social documentary in South Africa.

“It’s really an effort to put these folks in dialogue together, to bring the visual representation of the apartheid past together with the visual representation of South Africa today,” he said.

Follow reporter Ashley Jenkins on Twitter @ashmorganj.

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