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23 October 2010

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Your posts on the work of Larrabee should be required reading for discussing Pieter Hugo's Hyena Men, no matter one's particular slant on it. Leni Riefenstahl's work in Africa also comes to mind after her "conversion." I'm sure many would say there's certainly nothing wrong in capturing for posterity the way a proud people "once" were- or even how a pristine land once looked (Ansel Adams). Again, as you point out, it very much depends on just how much you leave out (even Ansel had to struggle to leave out electric poles and wires- as well as the indigenous peoples that traversed his photographic territory), and how you set about portraying that selected imagery.

Of course, one can not help but marvel at just why white South Africans wanted to help out their poor brethren, not from the goodness of their collective heart, but simply to uphold their racist mythology.

@Stan

Thanks very much for the comments.

You're absolutely right that a similar story can be told about other photographers, in other places.

Were the subjects of these photographs Afrikaners or English? Seems like that would make a big difference for the meaning of the representations.

@Jason

"Were the subjects of these photographs Afrikaners or English?"

Great question.

In Malherbe's photos the answer is "yes," except where he identified one of his subjects as English-speaking.

In Larrabee's photos, it's unclear -- in both the original magazine article and in her archive at the National Museum of African Art. The answer can only be "probably." "Poor whites" were usually thought of as the rural poor or as people who had left the countryside for the cities. That population was overwhelmingly Afrikaner.

It was ministers in the largely-Afrikaans Dutch Reformed Church who, in the late nineteenth century, first identified "poor whites" as a problem.

Soon afterward, the idea of uplifting poor whites became a central theme in Afrikaner nationalist politics.

There were two worries: (1) that poor Afrikaners would sink to the level of blacks, live amongst them, and see them as equals and (2) that poor Afrikaners might come to believe that their political interests were best served by working-class politics, rather than Afrikaner nationalist politics.

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