Photographs by Bryan Heseltine
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the South African-born, English-educated photographer Bryan Heseltine made a series of extraordinary photographs in and around Cape Town, a city in the midst of profound transformation following the rapid urbanisation of the post-war years and the election of the racist National Party government in 1948. Shortly after he made this work, however,
Heseltine left South Africa taking his photographs with him to England. Aside from an exhibition in 1955, they would remain there unseen and largely unknown for more than half a century. This exhibition returns these photographs to be shown in South Africa for the first time since 1952.
Heseltine's photography provides a unique view of Cape Town at the very beginning of the apartheid period, blending modernist visual influences with social and political concerns. The photographs were made in several areas of the city, each of which occupies a unique place in relation to the racial zoning and forced removals that were central to the implementation of apartheid: the Bo-Kaap,
District Six, Langa, Nyanga and Windermere. Heseltine's carefully composed images depict aspects of social and cultural life and illustrate the diversity of Cape Town's inhabitants. The collection contains a substantial number of powerful portraits, quite unlike either the standard depictions of the time that presented Black and Coloured South Africans as racially other, or the kind of studio
images that would have been made during the period. Working predominantly in medium and large format, the degree of care accorded to his subjects is both unusual and extends the value of this body of work. Heseltine's photography can be viewed as, in equal measure, a critical social commentary on, an aesthetically sophisticated response to, and a human engagement with, the
people and spaces of the segregated city.
In bringing this body of work back to South Africa the aim of the exhibition is to contribute to public understandings of the history of Cape Town and its visual representation, and to stimulate debate
around photography and the history and memory of segregation and forced removals. The exhibition, curated by Darren Newbury, opened on 24 September 2013 and is currently on at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, 15 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town. It is accompanied by
the publication People Apart: 1950s Cape Town Revisited. Photographs by Bryan Heseltine (Black Dog Publishing, 2013).
Fairyland: When District Six was a playground
District Six plagued by bulldozers
When the bulldozers came, the people left
District Six: We will never forget
District Six: Today
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