“He wasn’t just brave. He wasn’t just enterprising. He was a supremely fine photographer.”
Ernest Cole was born in South Africa in 1940 and received his first camera as a gift from a clergyman. Before leaving South Africa in the mid 1960s he worked as a photojournalist for Drum magazine, sharing a darkroom and friendship with photographer Struan Robertson.
On his own initiative Cole undertook a comprehensive photographic essay in which he showed what it meant to be black under apartheid. Out of this came the book, The House of Bondage, which was published in New York in 1967 and immediately banned in South Africa.
Cole was a courageous documentarian who at times risked his life to share his imagery with the world. He never returned to South Africa and died in exile in New York in 1990.
A significant body of his prints found its way to the Hasselblad Foundation in Sweden. Under the auspices of the Foundation a book, Ernest Cole Photographer, about Cole, his life and work was published in 2010. An exhibition of these prints, many of them made by Cole himself, is now touring museums in South Africa.