South Africa General

Little recognition has been given to Henri Ferdinand Gros for his outstanding contribution to the South African photographic history between 1869 and 1890. No other photographer has contributed to the then Transvaal photographic history like Gros. Without the Gros photographs, we would not have had an idea of what Pretoria looked like between 1875 and 1890. Gros certainly had the insight to identify the value of pictorial documentation.

This last week brought a spectacular media scoop to Steve Humphrey of the BBC when an anonymous tip off (presumably telephonic) led him to a bell shaped parcel left at the entrance to the Swanage Pier in Dorset, England. The BBC team was on hand to film the careful unwrapping of the parcel to reveal a ship's bell with the word “Mendi” deeply etched in capital letters on the side (main image from Steve Humphrey and BBC TV South). The bell of the SS Mendi, lost in World War 1, had been found. 

 

Photography is the only “language” that is understood worldwide, resulting in a bridge being created between nations and cultures – it connects the family of humanity. Independent of political influence – where people are free – it provides us with an honest reflection about life and events, allows us to share in the hope, joy and despair of others, and potentially lightens political and social burdens. This way we become witnesses, not only of humanity, but also of the brutality of human kind (Gernsheim as quoted in Sontag 1977).

The first permanent photograph to have been recorded was taken by the Frenchman Niépce during 1826 (after an eight-hour exposure). A fellow countryman, Daguerre, perfected the capturing of a permanent image by inventing the first practical photographic process during 1839. This photographic end result became known as the Daguerreotype.

For those of us old enough to remember, there was a tune called the “Lift Girl’s Lament” by the British singer songwriter Jeremy Taylor (he who was banished from South Africa for deriding Apartheid), which had the immortal line “I might go a thousand feet a day but I’m not going to go that far”; the song told the tale of a lift operator in a downtown Johannesburg department store in the 1960’s.

 

Carol Hardijzer is passionate about South African Photographica – anything and everything to do with the history of photography. He not only collects anything relating to photography, but conducts extensive research in this field. He has published a variety of articles (click here to view) on this topic and is currently doing research on South African based photographers from before 1910. He has one of the largest private photographic collections in South Africa.

Photographs produced on thin iron sheets? Yes, indeed! And it was cheap, even cheaper than the equivalent middle-class, paper based Carte de Visite. Photos on these thin iron sheets were actually referred to as a ‘plebian photographic end result’.

From their origin in the 1850s until the end of the twentieth century and beyond, these photographs remained popular because they were so inexpensive.

In September 2016, the Heritage Monitoring Project ran a campaign to draw attention to endangered heritage sites across South Africa. The result was a top ten list as well a long list that could be tracked over time. We recently put out a call for updates and have updated the relevant tracking threads hosted on The Heritage Portal (click here to view).

We South Africans live in a polyglot society, which under our Constitution, has 11 official languages that “must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably”. Mother tongues range from Afrikaans to IsiZulu, from isiXhosa to Setswana, however to stop us being a modern Tower of Babel we largely use one language to communicate between each other and that is English. In doing so we are reflecting a world wide trend. In today’s world English has become the “Lingua Franca” replacing French as the language of diplomacy and German in the field of science.

In 2001, the Journal of Heritage Studies published a fascinating article by Joan Henderson titled Conserving Colonial Heritage: Raffles Hotel in Singapore. In a section of the article that looks at the history of heritage conservation in Singapore, Henderson highlights four strategies that post-colonial societies can adopt when dealing with buildings inherited from the colonial era: renaming, neglecting, removing and using.

As a collector and researcher of Anglo Boer war related images the author, on occasions, finds original letters or newspaper clippings that relate to the “sitter” (person in the photograph) who was either a participant in the Boer War or simply a citizen caught up in the war.

Photographs in themselves tell stories, but to find personal letters either written by, or addressed to, the sitter enriches the story. The author feels compelled to record some of these personal stories – like this one:

Stereo photography is a craze that has swept the world since 1851, so much so that modern View Masters are still being produced commercially today. Stereo images (two photographs of the same subject, taken from slightly different angles but covering the same subject area, and mounted side by side) must be viewed through a special viewer where the two images then fuse into one giving a visual impression of subject depth – or a three dimensional effect.

I was recently given four photographs of early 20th century Cape Town. They are all in sepia brown shades. The dimensions are 8.5 x 11.30 inches. The edges of the photos are in poor condition but the main scenes are clearly visible. I would love to date these photographs.

They are clearly from the photographic studio of TP Ravenscroft and the one of Sea Point has a stamp on the reverse TD Ravenscroft. 

 

Heritage or Conservation Management Plans (HMPs/CMPs) are vital tools that provide an opportunity to conserve and manage heritage sites for future generations to enjoy. However, most of these HMPs/CMPs are developed specifically for site conservation in the context of tourism or research purposes. However, there is a clear gap for effective HMPs/CMPs within the development context when one looks at the amount of large scale operations such as mines, wind and solar farms etc.

An article published in the May 2015 “Popular Mechanics” magazine (RSA edition), was entitled “SUPERTRAINS coming down the line” in which it was stated “Let’s get one thing straight: we don’t send much freight via railway because the country’s extensive rail network is too narrow”. Yes it is true that South African wagons run on a narrow gauge track (1065mm) - narrow by definition being a gauge less than the standard gauge of 1435mm (4’-8½”).

Death, or more specifically images of the dead, remind us of our own mortality. During the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s, photography played a vital role in capturing images of loved ones, not only whilst alive, but also at the time of their death.

Where citizens could not afford a painted portrait of a loved one, photography was a cheaper and quicker alternative, providing the middle class with a photographic image in memory of a loved one who had passed away.

Rust by definition is a reddish brown coating formed on a ferrous metal (i.e. iron or steel) by oxidation, especially in the presence of moisture, which gradually corrodes the metal. Rust would seem to be Nature’s way of restoring iron and steel back to the state of the iron ore found in the earth’s crust. This process could well be called metallurgy in reverse.

The tragedy of the present day Migrant Crisis caused by the Syrian Civil War has an earlier precedent which occurred in the late seventeenth century when the King of France – Louis XIV (the Sun King) revoked the Edict of Nantes (a law protecting religious tolerance).  It was on the 22nd October 1685 that the King formally outlawed the Protestant religion in France, however, prior to that date the Huguenots (French Calvinists) had been persecuted rather like the Jews were in pre-war NAZI Germany.

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