“…with the so-called civilised workers, almost without exception their civilisation was only skin deep.” O. Pirow, quoting
South African Prime Minister J. B. M. Hertzog
For this book Santu Mofokeng collected private photographs which urban black working and middle-class families in
South Africa commissioned between 1890 and 1950, a time when the government was creating policies towards those
designated as “natives”. Painterly in style, the images evoke the artifices of Victorian photography. Some of them are
fiction, a creation of the artist in terms of setting, props, clothing and pose – yet there is no evidence of coercion. We
believe these images, as they reveal something about how these people imagined themselves. In this work Mofokeng
analyses the sensibilities, aspirations and self-image of the black population and its desire for representation and social
recognition in times of colonial rule and suppression. The Black Photo Album / Look at Me: 1890–1950 is drawn from
an ongoing research project of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Santu Mofokeng was born in Johannesburg in 1956 and began his career as a street photographer in Soweto during
the apartheid era. Having received the Ernest Cole Scholarship in 1991, he studied at the International Centre for
Photography in New York. In 1998 Mofokeng received the Künstlerhaus Worpswede Fellowship and in 2002 a DAAD
Fellowship in Berlin. His first international retrospective opened in May 2011 at Jeu de Paume in Paris. Mofokeng lives
and works in Johannesburg.