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Thursday, January 20, 2022 - 11:53

Over the last few years I have been gathering, digitising and getting the story behind the few remaining photos that my late grandfather, Ken Bath took during his +- 30 years as a photographer.

Thanks to my Dad (Leigh Bath) for sharing a little more about his dad, my grandfather, Ken (Kenneth Charles ‘Ken’ Bath 1915 – 1985). I am delighted that I could bring these photos back to life and share his wonderful work.


Studio Stamp


Born in Rhodesia, as a young boy he was sent to St Andrews School in Grahamstown, South Africa where he completed his education. Soon after, he left for London, arriving in the mid 1930s. He found a job as a ‘stills’ photographer at the busy Ealing Film Studios in West London where he met Dorothy Gill, a darkroom assistant, and they soon married.


River Thames and Tower Bridge, London in the mid 1930s


At the start of the Second World War, he joined The Royal Air Force and was posted to Iceland to work on the photographic reconnaissance of the North Atlantic, hunting German U-Boats. Returning to the studios after the war, he was now the Father of three children.


Making 'The Cruel Sea' at Ealing Studios, a movie about the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II


Life in Britain was grim and in 1947 the family left for South Africa, settling in Johannesburg. Initially the family were given accommodation at the Moon Hotel in the countryside twenty miles north of the city which was completely undeveloped at this time. Almost immediately Ken started exploring the area on foot, photographing the beautiful open veld.


Could this be north of Johannesburg near the Moon Hotel where the family stayed in 1947/8?


Koppies north of Johannesburg


In 1948 Ken bought a house in the new suburb of Emmarentia. It was the second house in the area and many of his photos show the open veld as far as Northcliff, now all completely built up.


View of Northcliff Hill with dirt road in the foreground


View from the kitchen window


Taken from the family's back fence in Rustenburg Road. Emmarentia is still to be built. The old Louw Geldenhuis farm dam and one of the farmhouses visible close by.


A distant view of Northcliff Hill (Bath Family Archive)


He rented a shop in nearby Greenside opening ‘Ken Bath Studios’, specialising in family portraits. He built a darkroom at home for processing the film and printing, and if required, Dorothy (Dot) would hand colour the prints, using oil paints and techniques learnt at the film studios in England.

On many Sundays, Ken would sling his camera bag around his neck and walk all over Johannesburg canvassing for business and photographing all that he found interesting. These photos now form an early history of the area and the quality of the pictures show his true artistic ability with the camera.


The Native Affairs Department in Johannesburg in the early 1950s. Workers are lining up for permits to work in the city. Evidence of the early stages of Apartheid.


Indian fruitsellers on Diagonal Street


32 Ford coupe parked on the corner of Kruis and Fraser Streets. Eriksen was the main Ford agent in Johannesburg. Just seen on the right is the Johannesburg Fire Station in Kruis Street. Collins were major motor spares suppliers supplying parts for all makes of cars. Around the corner to the left out of picture was Photra where Ken bought all his film and flash bulbs when he had Ken Bath Studios.


Street scene in the 1950s. Note the tram rails in the road. Greatermans Wholesalers soon became a major department store where the family often shopped.


Art Deco icon Escom House. Sadly demolished in the 1980s.


Interesting notes on the photo of Escom House


Looking across the railway lines towards the South African Railways & Harbour Building


Looking towards Ansteys and Manners Mansions from a rooftop to the north of the city


After two heart attacks, Ken Bath Studios closed and Ken found a job in the City, opening a photographic department for Anglo American Corporation. He became responsible for charting the history of their many gold mines, and also their copper mining operations in what was known as the Copper Belt in Zambia. He also photographed progress at the vast and fabulously rich diamond discovery at Oranjemund in South West Africa which was being developed by De Beers Diamond Mines.


Shaft sinking at Western Deep Levels, home to some of the world's deepest mines


Oranjemund from above


Ken flying into Oranjemund on a De Beers Dakota in the 1970s


Ken was a great adventurer, packing his old station wagon with camping gear and taking off to explore the still very wild South Africa. Rough dirt roads were driven to amazing far away destinations in the North Western Cape, Northern Transvaal, Western Transvaal, Eastern Cape and Mozambique. These trips were taken with minimum planning and the family camped anywhere possible. Ken’s camera always recorded the adventure with great detail.


On an adventure near Kakamas in the Northern Cape


Taking in the views on a holiday in Mozambique


Camping in Mozambique


Freedom on Barra Beach, Mozambique


Family holidays were often taken at secluded Knoetzie Beach near Knysna, a two-day trip through Natal, Transkei and the Eastern Cape, sleeping en-route next to the car overnight. The trips were taken before motorways were built and required using incredible mountain passes built by Italian Prisoners-of-War. The car never made it to the top without overheating!


Knoetzie Beach near Knysna


He was also given an assignment at Anglo to follow the development of the Carlton Centre from a large hole in the ground until completion, which required flights in a light aircraft without doors over the site every few months. It was part of their property portfolio. He was also required to record business meetings, social gatherings and even dinner parties of the Directors.


Site of the old Carlton Hotel and new Carlton Centre and Hotel (From the book 'Meet me at the Carlton' - not part of the family archive)


Executives signing a big deal


Ken recorded most of the images in this article using a Leica 120, a Speed Graphix, Roleiflex, and later a Hasselblad supplied by Anglo American.

Main image: Looking across the shunting yards towards the Johannesburg CBD

Leigh Bath is Ken Bath's son and Oliver is his (Ken's) grandson.


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