Santu Mofokeng's black and white photographs provide enduring images of great humanity. Source:

An Introduction - the South African anti apartheid Documentary Photography Collective in the 1980s.

Afrapix, a documentary photographers' collective and photo agency, was established by a small group of black and white photographers and political activists in 1982. It played a seminal role in the development of a socially informed school of documentary photography in apartheid South Africa.

The group collectively produced some of the most compelling photographic statements on apartheid and the popular uprising against white minority rule in the 1980s.

The formation of Afrapix coincided with the emergence of a wave of community and grassroots activism that both involved and gave rise to cultural, political and labour organisations as well as to the "alternative" or oppositional media.  

Afrapix was one of the few - if not the only alternative community-based grouping in the country that was totally funded through the efforts of its members and not dependent on the international anti-apartheid donor community for its existence.

Afrapix's impact on South Africa's photographic and oppositional cultural community was through its exhibitions, workshops and publishing projects. Some of the leading members of Afrapix not only played a influential role in underground political and labour organisations, but also in establishing cultural organisations that formed part of the 'people's culture' or 'resistance arts' movements.

Afrapix members argued that photographers should become activists, using their skills to bring about change within the country and become the leading proponent of what came to be known as 'Struggle Photography'.

Afrapix photographers stretched the boundary between the requirements of hard news and in developing a socially relevant documentary photography practice that raised critical issues around the role of the photographer (as a witness to the times) and the complex relationship of how people in a racially fractured society were portrayed.

Many commentators and critics over the years have focused on the 'struggle photography' coverage of community and mass based struggles. However, this critique fails to recognise that Afrapix photographers also played a key role in challenging the main stream white conservative and liberal photographic and academic establishment. Afrapix developed a strong critique of their notion of the 'politics of representation' and their hostile attitudes toward those who saw the need to 'take side' and 'bearing witness' against apartheid and white minority rule.

From its inception in 1982 to its dissolution in 1991, the Afrapix collective had close on 40 members (including full, community and associate members). It ran many workshops, held numerous shows both locally and internationally and trained and inspired an entire generation of photographers.  After Afrapix officially dissolved in 1991, many of its former members continued to work as documentary photographers and have carved out significant careers both at home and internationally.

Last updated : 05-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 21-Mar-2011