Peter McKenzie

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Documentary photographer, administrator of Afrapix photographic collective, President of the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts

First name: 
Peter
Middle name: 
Michael
Last name: 
McKenzie
Date of birth: 
10 February 1955
Location of birth: 
Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), South Africa
Date of death: 
13 October 2017

Peter Michael McKenzie was born on 10 February 1955, in Durban, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal). He was the youngest child of Duggie and Hilda McKenzie. He attended Melbourne Road Primary and Parkhill High Schools in Durban, matriculating at Harold Cressy High School in Cape Town in 1973. It was here that he met Moeneefa Samsodien whom he married and they had a son, David Lee.

In the mid seventies, McKenzie moved to Johannesburg where he worked at Phillips as a television technician. A work colleague, who was emigrating, sold him a camera and darkroom equipment —thus starting his lifelong love of the still image.

McKenzie then studied photography at the Technikon Natal (now the Durban University of Technology - DUT), becoming the first person of colour to do so. He worked at the Sunday Tribune, The Star (Africa edition) and at Drum magazine, where he soon became chief photographer, earning him the nickname “Mkhize”.

He was recruited by Omar Badsha in December 1981 as a member of the Afrapix Photgraphic Collective. In January 1982, he left for Johannesburg where he started working with Paul Weinberg and Lesley Lawson to establish the Afrapix office, which was first based at the South African Council of Churches (SACC) headquarters, Khotso House, in central Johannesburg.

At the seminal Botswana Cultural Festival in Gaborone in 1982, he delivered a paper, Bringing the struggle into focus.

He then freelanced for various publications, travelling widely and went on to study at the Poynter Institute of Journalism at St. Petersburg in America. He was also the co-ordinator and facilitator of the Photojournalism Department at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, in Johannesburg, from 1996 to 1999. McKenzie was the Johannesburg head of the pan-African news/feature agency Panapress.

Mckenzie contributed to several group exhibitions and publications before curating and co-ordinating the “Every Child is my Child” exhibition for the office of the President. He curated the work of five South African photographers at the bi-annual Festival of Documentary Photography, "Recontres de la Photographie Africaine", in Bamako, Mali, December 1998.

His next big project was a documentary film and exhibition entitled “Vying Porzy” (meaning Going Home) which dealt with various issues in the township of Wentworth, south of Durban —a place he had grown up as a young man, after first living in central Durban and then Cato Manor, having been moved on as a result of the Group Areas Act which was being enforced back then.

He worked closely with publisher Reedwan Vally (STE Publishers) on various books, one of which was about the journeys of Nelson Mandela. He then returned to his hometown Durban around 2010 where he worked on several projects.

He resuscitated the Durban Centre for Photography in 2012 and was president of the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts (KZNSA) from 2012 until 2015. He was also a member of the Market Photoworkshop’s Board, as well as being an active member of the board of the Alliance Francaisse in Durban.

The last exhibition and presentation of his was “Theemeri - walking on a bed of flowers”, which was a revisiting of the fire walking ceremony at the Second River Temple in Umbilo in Durban, a project that he had initially started whilst still photography student in the Seventies.

Peter McKenzie passed away on 13 October 2017 after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by a brother, three sisters, his partners Moeneefa McKenzie, Caroline Terrier and their sons David and Issa.

Exhibtions:

  • Marseille-France in May 1999
  • Annual Festival of Photography, Pretoria, 2000 
  • Guyana, South America 2001

References:
•  Mayet, R. (2017). Email to SAHO, 2017-10-19.

Last updated : 31-Oct-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011