Pictorial History

Here is my pick for the ideal late Christmas or new year present for the South African heritage enthusiast. Paul Duncan (writer and publisher) and Alain Proust (photographer) have done it again. Top marks to this well-known duo in heritage for producing another handsome book.

In October 2016 Johannesburg celebrates its 130th birthday. From those early beginnings as a mining camp on the veld here is a city in its second century sufficiently mature to realize that there are some buildings worth celebrating and preserving; the camp grew to a town, then a city and is now a sprawling metropolis. It was a city with little appreciation of its past and property developers then and now seldom show respect for the old and out of date.

In its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Ravan Press was regarded as the daring, oppositional anti-apartheid publisher in Johannesburg, ready to take an alternative perspective of South African society. The publishing firm was established by Peter Randall, Danie Van Zyl and Beyers Naude and the firm's name, Ravan was an amalgam of their three names. They were publishers of the left and they supported the academic struggle for a different view and ideological interpretation of social issues of the day.

Albums are normally highly idiosyncratic and personal to the individual who has assembled a collection of photographs or stamps or newspaper cuttings. In 1986 Dr Oscar Norwich, was a medical man with an insatiable appetite for collecting African maps and all information relating to Johannesburg history.

Early Johannesburg Its buildings and its People,  Hannes Meiring, with text by G-M van der Waal and Wilhelm Grutter, Human & Rousseau, 1986. 143 pages. This book has the feel of a album and was published in the Johannesburg centenary year. I think it was one of the most appealing of centenary publications. The inimitable Meiring style comes through in his light touch but detailed sketches of Johannesburg buildings. The project started as drawings in a series, "Ou Johannesburg ", for Die Beeld.

Hannes Meiring: My Country in Line and Colour - An Unconventional Look at South African Architecture. Fernwood Press, 2004.  Meiring was a fine architect who died in 2010. He was a sensitive conservation and heritage professional.  Published some 11 years ago this finely produced volume is a compilation of many of Meiring's architectural sketches and water colours .

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