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14 July 2013

Transition, Social Landscapes

Transition is a collaborative photographic project carried out by French and South African photographers and focusing on the territory of South Africa. The project brings together works by six South African photographers (Santu Mofokeng, Pieter Hugo, Zanele Muholi, Cedric Nunn, Jo Ractliffe, Thabiso Sekgala) and six French photographers (Patrick Tourneboeuf, Alain Willaume, Raphaël Dallaporta, Harry Gruyaert [a Belgian living in France], Philippe Chancel, Thibaut Cuisset). They have developed separate photographic bodies of work that speak to a land experience unique to various sites in and around South Africa.

A commission as ambitious as this is exceptional in the history of photography. It has been made possible through the larger project of the 2012/2013 France-South Africa Seasons. Since the 19th century, France has had a tradition of commissioning works by talented photographers to interpret national territory in its relation to demography.

The photographs, produced during two journeys for most of the photographers, navigate between reality and imaginary worlds, the banal and the strange, lack and abundance.

The project’s ambition is to engage a dialogue capable of bringing out the complexity of the readings of places, land and a sense of belonging. It is a dialogue that has not always been easy. Many points of view and different positions have been expressed, along with divergences; many questions have remained without answers.

In South Africa, problems linked to the land are an integral part of racial history and Apartheid, the heritage of colonisation, circumstances tied to ownership, and a sense of belonging and identity. These problems are the most obvious inheritance of an oppressed and inegalitarian society, whether in urban or rural contexts. For this reason, it is impossible to attempt a reading of the landscape without including a social approach.

The history of South African photography is profoundly rooted in the complexity of socio-political issues related to land and its ownership. 2013 is the centenary of the Land Act, which was the first founding law of Apartheid. The 1913 Land Act reserved most of South Africa’s land exclusively for white ownership.

This exhibition comes at a particular moment in South African history. Although the exhibition looks back at the past, it is also just as interested in change and the future. It is a reflection, but also an integral element of this landscape in transition, just as the post-Apartheid politics of South Africa also are.


François Hébel and John Fleetwood, curators.

Exhibition venue: Atelier de Mécanique, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2013.