Alf Kumalo, one of the twentieth century's great photographers, died yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was 82.
The South Africa photojournalist and writer Greg Marinovich published a moving tribute, today. Here's an extract:
I last saw Alf a couple of months ago, and, as usual, he had his camera with him. He was dressed up for an on-camera interview, and looked fabulous. I had only my mobile phone with me, and as I tut-tutted, peering at the back of my phone screen at the unsatisfying images, Alf offered to let me use the camera that he always carried, no matter where he went.
It was vintage Kumalo: polite, unassuming, gentle, generous.
This was a guy who had done it all, from hanging out with Muhammad Ali while shooting Rumble in the Jungle (before turning down an offer to be Ali's personal photographer) to capturing Oliver Tambo ringside at a boxing match and then later at his treason trial in 1954.
He was particularly close to Nelson Mandela. He became Mandela's de facto official photographer when Nelson was in jail, chronicling the lives of his wife Winnie and the children Madiba could not watch grow up. "There were very few people with cameras but thank God we captured many events that have recorded the history of both the struggle and the peace and democracy," said Bra Alf.
You can read the rest of it, here.
I also found a couple of short films about Kumalo. In the first, photographers who worked with him and learned from him talk about him with affection and deep respect. In the second, he speaks for himself. They're both wonderful.
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I've written before about South Africa's rich photographic history. Taking the size of the population into account, few countries have been blessed with so many good -- even great -- photographers. Nowhere on earth has photography mattered more. Kumalo was one the the best and most important of them all.