Gisèle Wulfsohn is a freelance photographer specialising in portraiture, education, health and gender issues. Gisèle studied Graphic Fine Art at the Johannesburg College of Art, after which she joined The Star newspaper in 1979, where she worked as a staff photographer. In 1983 she became staff photographer for STYLE magazine, and in 1986 she was appointed chief photographer for Leadership Magazine. In 1987 she went freelance and joined AFRAPIX - a photographic collective that documented social issues and the anti-apartheid struggle.

Since the late1980s she has documented various HIV/Aids awareness initiatives. In l999/2000, while working for the Dept of Health's Beyond Awareness Campaign, she compiled a series of portraits of 31 South Africans who had publicly disclosed their HIV status. Her Living Openly photographs were published extensively in newspapers and magazines around South Africa, and were exhibited at the Durban International Aids Conference (July 2000).

This project was featured in an e-TV documentary (also entitled Living Openly) that was broadcast four times in August 2000. The Living Openly exhibition has now been displayed at various centres and conferences in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, including at the Aids In Context Conference at WITS University in April 2001. It will be exhibited next at the Healing Through Creative Arts Conference at Museum Afrika, Johannesburg, in November/December 2001.

Gisèle's photographs have been published internationally in publications such as Der Spiegel (Germany), Marie Claire (UK, Germany, Poland, Hong Kong), The Lancet, Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, The Economist, New Internationalist, as well as in numerous local specialist and general publications. In addition, her photographs have appeared in various corporate Annual Reports.

In 1994 she was commissioned by the Independent Electoral Commission together with four other photographers to document the first democratic elections in South Africa. These pictures were published in a book entitled An End to Waiting. She was picture editor/photographer for The South African Women's Health Book published by Oxford University Press in conjunction with The Women's Health Project in l996.

In 2000 she was commissioned by OXFAM UK and Frances Lincoln Publishers to take the photographs for a children's' counting book, entitled One Child, One Seed, set in rural KwaZulu Natal. This book is currently on the Exclusive Books Publishers' Choice list of the nine best children's books for 2001.

In 2001 she was commissioned by Frances Lincoln to research, write and photograph Bongani's Day: From Dusk to Dawn in a South African City - part of an international series. Bongani's Day will be published in 2002.

Four years later, Wulfsohn was diagnosed with lung cancer. True to her gutsy spirit and ability to sensitively reflect on life, she articulately linked the challenges her illness brought her with her work with HIV/Aids sufferers.

She commented on a website: "Photographing HIV-positive children was very traumatic, particularly as I was the mother of two healthy children. I started at Kalafong Hospital in Atteridgeville. At first, I just put my cameras down and sobbed. But, despite the sad stories, there are so many brave people out there. So, when I, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, I was greatly inspired by those whom I had met on the HIV/Aids journey. I could choose to close up and not talk about it at all, or to go out there, talk about it and find out as much about it as I could. And I chose to do just that."

In 2006, the Malibongwe exhibition featuring Wulfsohn's powerful portraits of women anti-apartheid activists was mounted by Gail Behrmann and Emilia Potenza in collaboration with Wulfsohn.

A couple of weeks before she died, she was feeling well enough to "steal her own car" and drive to Rosebank, where she "hijacked" her mother's wheelchair in order to get herself out of the confines of a sick bed. Later she was able to view William Kentridge's work at the Goodman Gallery.

Wulfsohn is survived by her husband, Mark Turpin, twin sons of 16, Joseph and Samuel, her mother, Perla, two sisters, Diane and Susan, and a brother, Philip

Her work is held with Panos Pictures in London, and with Gallo Images in Johannesburg.

Exhibitions

Solo exhibitions

  • Living Openly. Bat Centre, Durban, July 2000.
  • Malibongwe – Let us Praise the Women. Travelling exhibition. Apartheid Museum October 2006/Nelson Mandela Foundation/Parliament Cape Town/ Slave Lodge Cape Town/ Rwanda 2013

Group exhibitions

  • Living Openly, Bonanai Africa, Museum Afrika, 2002.
  • SA Women's Projects, Bonani Africa, Museum Afrika 2002.
  • The Fatherhood Project, Museum Afrika 2004.
  • Then & Now. Travelling exhibition South Africa, Europe, USA, Australia 2007.
  • Rise & Fall of Apartheid, 2013–2014, USA, Europe, South Africa (Museum Afrika)
  • Ngezinyawo – Migrant Journeys, Wits Art Museum, 2014
  • Between States of Emergency, Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2015

Works featured in the following publications: 

An End to Waiting: South Africa’s first democratic elections, 1995

Bongani's Day: From Dusk to Dawn in a South African City, 2002

One Child, One Seed, 2003

Siku Ra Bongani, 2005

Then and Now, 2008

Further reading: Gisele Wulfsohn – the late photography legend had a vision to expose social injustices

References

Waller M & B. Waller B, (2000), A bigger picture: a manual of photojournalism in southern Africa, (Juta M), p. 337|Gisele Wulfsohn, from Walkerbooks, [online] Available at www.walkerbooks.com.au [Accessed 08 September 2011]|Gisele Wulfsohn, from Francis Lincoln Publishers, [online] Available at www.franceslincoln.com  [Accessed 08 September 2011]

Collections in the Archives