I began working as a photographer in South Africa in 1984, during some of the darkest days of apartheid. This experience defined my lifelong approach to photography and inspired me to seek out ways to engage creatively with social issues. I maintain the belief that photography can be both a beautiful art form and a tool for positive impact in the world.
Developing my projects over long periods of time, I have established an approach that is personal and political, positioned somewhere between documentary photojournalism, art and activism. My intention has always been to challenge viewers by pushing boundaries, translating issues of global concern into work that might evoke both an emotional response and practical action.
Looking back at my forty years as a photographer I am proud that my images have been seen in a huge variety of contexts; from newspaper and magazine pages to gallery installations to large-scale billboards and protest banners.
I am now in the position that a new generation is discovering my work, which I see as a huge responsibility. With the passing of time, many photographs have taken on additional meaning and renewed relevance, the likes of which I could never have predicted at the moment of making.
In recent years I have also begun the difficult process of interrogating my own practice and archive, through the lens of power and white privilege. In my early career in South African I was able to place myself extremely close to shocking instances of police brutality using a wide-angle lens, giving the images an unsettling intimacy. A black photographer would never have been allowed to get so close, and might justifiably have been fearful of doing so. My ‘whiteness’ and my assumption of a right to be wherever I wanted to be was undoubtedly a factor in making this work. I am also acutely aware that I am one of a long line of white, usually male photographers who have depicted black lives and black bodies inAfrica, from the outside, looking in.
In contrast to this I am in the early stages of developing what is possibly my most difficult project to date (What Comes Next) that turns my gaze inward exploring the complexity of family history, memory and trauma. This has been driven by the gradual uncovering of a vast personal family archive of albums, documents and letters that reflect many generations of German Jewish life and the violence enacted upon my family in the 20th century. My parents were both German Jews who escaped to South Africa shortly before the onset of the Second World War.My grandfather perished in the trenches of the First World War (fighting for Germany) and my grandmother was murdered at Treblinka Concentration Camp.
I am coming to understand the links between my drive as a photographer to document pain in the contemporary world and the pain that is evident in this archive, a legacy of emotional damage that has been passed on that paradoxically has enabled me repeatedly to represent the trauma of others.
My engagement with such an intensely personal archive is not a departure from my on-going work as a photographer. Without me being consciously aware of it, archival practice has been a growing element in my work so engaging with a family archive makes complete sense in the arc of my own creative development, a destiny of sorts.