This book and exhibition are an attempt to construct a clear picture of Ernest Cole, a complex man whose work is little known, especially in his own country, but who deserves recognition as a major voice in the struggle against apartheid and as an original photographic artist. He was a determined, intelligent and skilful photographer with a special capacity for observation and an exceptional eye for capturing artistic, aesthetic and meaningful images even in the harshest and most threatening of situations.The main focus of Cole’s photography was his commitment to humanity. From the late 1950s until 1966 he portrayed the everyday lives of black South Africans with warmth and empathy. As one of the most socially aware photographers of his time he left an insightful and comprehensive document of his people and their struggle.
This text is a compilation of quotations from interviews and research about Ernest Cole and his life I have undertaken since 2008. It was difficult to find people who knew him or knew about him, because he “compartmentalized” them, i.e. he kept his different relationships apart, not revealing them to eachother. There will still be many people whom I have not been able to trace or contact but as this project will be kept alive on the internet, I would be most grateful for input and comments about information that is missing or needs to be revised, mistakes, people to contact for more information, etc..