Paul Alb erts, one of South Africa’s leading social documentary photographers, was born in 1946 in Pretoria. He spent his youth in Botswana and the Limpopo Province. He matriculated at Afrikaans Hoër Seunsskool in 1963 after which he attended the University of Pretoria but did not complete his studies.
In 1965 he travelled to Europe and lived in Paris. He worked as a journalist on various newspapers (Die Vaderland, Die Transvaler, The Cape Argus, Die Burger). At Die Burger he was attached to the paper’s arts page.
In 1975 he turned to freelance photography with his main interest being social documentary and theatre photography. Since 1981 he dedicated himself to the publishing of social documentary photography and special interest books. Seven photographic books of his work have been published. They are:
Die Klein Karoo: 'n Legkaart, Tafelberg-Uitgewers, Kaapstad, 1977 (text: Abraham H De Vries).
In Camera: Portraits of South African Artists, H.A.U.M., Cape Town, 1979 (text: André P Brink).
Children of the Flats, Reijger Publishers, Cape Town, 1980 (text: George Gibbs) This book was published in commemoration of the United Nation’s International Year of the Child and internationally distributed.
The Borders of Apartheid, The Gallery Press, Cape Town, 1983 (compilor of text: P Alberts).
The Forgotten Highway (through Ceres and the Bokkeveld), The Gallery Press, Cape Town, 1988 (text: Dene Smuts) (The book was also published in Afrikaans.)
South African Military Buildings Photographed: An Historical Heritage, The Gallery Press, Cape Town, 1993 (compiled and photographed by Paul Alberts; Foreword by Mr Justice M R de Kock, Chairman: National Monuments Council).
Some evidence of things seen: Children of South Africa, Open Hand Press, Rivonia, 1997. (Introduction: Nelson Mandela; Text, among others, by Desmond Tutu, Albie Sachs, National Children’s Rights Committee, Unicef.)
Faces of Age, Kraal Publishers, Brandfort, 2005. (Editor: Tom Mantata. Text: Twenty authors including the Human Rights Committee, Desmond Tutu and Dr Nana Apt.). His work (together with other photographers or as illustration) was also published in a further nine books, some of which were published abroad.
Nichts Wird Uns Trennen (Nothing Will Separate Us), Benteli Verlag, Bern, 1983 (editor: Tim Besserer).
South Africa through the Lens, Ravan Press, 1984.
South Africa - Who Cares, The Gallery Press, Cape Town, 1985 (text: Ray Hartman) (This book focussed on the activities of the Rotary Service Organisation in South Africa.)
South Africa: The Cordoned Heart (prepared for the Second Carnegie Inquiry Into Poverty and Development in southern Africa), The Gallery Press, Cape Town and W W Norton & Co, New York, 1986 (text: Prof Francis Wilson; editor: Omar Badsha).
Growing Up In a Divided Society: The Contexts of Childhood in South Africa, Ravan Press, 1986 (editors: Dr Pamela Reynolds and Dr Sandra Berman).
From South Africa, Northwestern University, USA, 1987 (editors: David Bunn and Jane Taylor).
Meditation: a path to consciousness, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1997 (text: Merwede van der Merwe).
Lighting Up South Africa: A Century of Electricity Serving Humankind, Open Hand Press, Bloemfontein, 2000 (text by the National Electricity Regulator). Moving In Time: Images of Life in a Democratic South Africa, KMM Review Publishing Company, Sandton, 2004 (editor: George Hallett).
Alberts exhibited extensively in South Africa since 1975. Several solo exhibitions of his work has been presented at, among others, the SA Association of Arts (Cape Town), the Shell Gallery (Cape Town), the Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg), the Market Gallery (Johannesburg) and the Oliewenhuis Art Museum (Bloemfontein).
His exhibition of portraits of South African artists at the Goodman Gallery in 1979 was the first exhibition at this prestigious gallery where photography was presented as art. In 2000 a major retrospective exhibition of his work was presented at Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein. This exhibition was afterwards staged at the Bensusan Museum of Photography at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg, during February and March 2001 and at the Sanlam Art Gallery in Bellville during April and May 2001.
A major exhibition marking his 60th birthday – Buite die Hekke van Eden (Outside the Gates of Eden)– was staged at Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein in April 2006.
He has also contributed to a number of major group exhibitions including some of which were shown in the USA’s major cities, as well as in the United Kingdom and Europe. More recently he contributed to the Moving in Time group exhibition that was staged in Europe. The exhibition formed part of South Africa’s celebration of its ten years of democracy.
In 2003 he was assigned by the War Museum in Bloemfontein to edit and compile a major exhibition, Suffering of War that depicted the suffering of both Boer and British soldiers, as well as citizens, animals and the countryside during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
The exhibition was staged at Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein in 2003 and in Moscow, Russia, in June 2004. The exhibition has been staged in all the major centres in South Africa during 2004, inter alia, at the Castle in Cape Town (September 2004), at Aardklop Arts Festival in Potchefstroom (September 2004) and the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria (November 2004).
It was also staged in several countries in Europe, Africa and the Far East during 2005 and 2006 and formed part of the South African Government’s celebrations of the tenth anniversary of its democracy.
A prestigious hardcover book, Suffering of War, was published in October 2003. The text was written by Col Frik Jacobs, internationally acclaimed expert and historian on the Anglo-Boer War and Director of the War Museum. Paul Alberts wrote a chapter on the history of combat photography.
Alberts compiled and edited an Afrikaans translation (Die Smarte van Oorlog) of Emily Hobhouse’s famous book The Brunt of the War and Where It Fell in 2005. As photographic editor of the book, he was responsible for the digital restoration of more than 250 photographs, many of which were never published before.
In December 1999, Alberts was elected by the University of the Orange Free State as one of one hundred leading South African citizens of the Free State and the Northern Cape of the past millennium.
In March 2002 he was awarded a Medal of Honour for his work as social documentary photographer by the South African Academy of Science and Arts.
He completed a revised edition of Some evidence of things seen: Children of South Africa, with a major section on HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Editor: Shirley Mabusela, former Deputy Chairperson at the Human Rights Commission and trustee at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Protea Boekhuis published Buite die Hekke van Eden in April 2007.
Alberts clients include prominent companies and organisations such as the Independent Development Trust, Idasa, South African Breweries, the Hans Merensky Foundation, Eskom, Telkom, Transnet, The National Electricity Regulator, NewHco and GTZ (the German Government’s aid organisation). The focus of his work is social documentary.
In April 1993 Alberts and his family moved to Brandfort in the Free State, where he spent his last days. Alberts passed away on 18 November 2010.