It’s all about the art this week! A few days ago we wrote about Cape Town based-artist, Kemang Wa Lehulere, and his focus on historical perspectives, and today we look at the work of the legendary Market Photo Workshop (MPW). Founded by the late David Goldblatt in 1989, MPW was established in order to provide disadvantaged students with access to photographic training. It was the first South African institution to offer aspiring black South African photographers training and access to essential photographic equipment during apartheid. In fact access was a key founding principle of the institution – not only access to photographic equipment and facilities, but also access to some of the most formidable thinkers and producers of photography at the time.
While the school focused on social documentary in order to provide students with a way into the media and photojournalistic practice, recording the every day lives of South African’s during the late ’80s and early 1990s was itself sometimes considered a subversive act. Also, while many of the students didn’t focus specifically on the political goings on, like Goldblatt’s works, photographs that documented ordinary life in South Africa offered important insight into the apartheid years.
Looking back on the work produced by students of the Market Photo Workshop over the past thirty years was a formidable task for Ingrid Masondo, curator of the exhibition, Not the Usual Suspects, currently on show at the Iziko South African National Gallery. As an institution, the Market Photo Workshop has produced some of the most influential photographers on the continent, but Masondo chose instead to focus on some of the lesser known graduates, with the exhibition specifically highlighting women-queer photographers. Masondo also included testimony, and in some cases images, from trainers, project managers and mentors who contributed to the running of the institution over the years, offering a unique perspective and understanding of the dynamics of the photography school.
Recently MPW was honoured with the prestigious Principal Prince Claus Award. In announcing their decision, the Prince Claus Awards Committee had the following to say:
Market Photo Workshop is honored for its political courage and historically significant act of opening photography to black South Africans during apartheid; for sustaining the radical spirit and ideals that grew out of the struggle against apartheid, stimulating critical reflection and enabling a continuing evolution of photographic expression of social realities and injustices; for creating a dynamic education process that propagates the role of photography as a proactive agent in social development; for providing access to essential storytelling tools and supportive networks, enabling young people, including the marginalized and disadvantaged, to envision and share their experiences; and for its integrity over 30 years of dedication as a catalyst and springboard for talent, consistently empowering generations of remarkable photographers.”
Not the Usual Suspects, which showcases more than one hundred artworks by more than thirty graduates of the Market Photo Workshop, runs until the 21st April 2019. For further information please visit the Iziko website.