It's a good bet that there are more photographers per square meter in South Africa, right now, than anywhere else on earth. Sports shooters and photojournalists have poured into the country, all on assignment, covering the Football (Soccer) World Cup.
But let's be clear. Many of the photographers covering the action are locals. For decades, South Africa has been producing far more than its fair share of important photographers. (Many began their careers as photojournalists.) Some have achieved international recognition -- Constance Stuart Larrabee, Ernest Cole, David Goldblatt, Peter Magubane, George Hallett, Santu Mokofeng, Paul Weinberg, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Guy Tillim, Jodie Bieber, among many, many others.
There's another side of South African photography, however, one that's usually hidden from view. Black photographers from the urban "townships" (segregated areas in which blacks were forced to live under apartheid) are often invisible to the larger society. "Soccer Kultcha," an exhibition that's recently opened at the University of Cape Town's Michaelis Art Gallery, is doing its part to change that.
At the opening of "Soccer Kultcha." In front of the young men, a photo by Warren Nelson. Cape Town, 11 June 2010.
The photos on display in "Soccer Kultcha" look at the world of football players and fans in the Coloured and African townships of the Cape Flats, a sprawling area that begins just beyond central Cape Town. As the curators say, the show is about the "vibrant soccer culture" that has been created by the men and women, and boys and girls, who "love the game with as much passion as the stars," but "play on any field they can find, sometimes with home-made balls or goals."
South African artist Lionel Davis speaks at the opening of "Soccer Kultcha." Cape Town, 11 June 2010.
The photographers whose work is included in the exhibition are mainly street photographers and school children "who bring... their insights into football -- off the radar and big screens but definitely on the map." Most of the adults are members of Iliso Labantu (Eye of the People), a collective of accomplished township photographers that offers training and career opportunities to its members.
At the opening of "Soccer Kultcha." In front of the young men, a photo by Nikki Rixon. Cape Town, 11 June 2010.
Of course, the most important thing about "Soccer Kultcha" is that the photos are wonderful to look at. Many are absolutely stunning. Even the school kids have produced some fine photographs. (That doesn't surprise me. I've worked with young people on similar projects in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the photos that some of them made were, like those in "Soccer Kultcha," creative, surprising, and beautiful.)
"Soccer Kultcha" exhibition. Large photo by Warren Nelson. Cape Town, 11 June 2010.
"Soccer Kultcha" is on view daily at the Michealis Art Gallery, at the University of Cape Town's Michaelis School of Fine Art until July 10th. The gallery is easy to find, conveniently located in the downtown heart of the city.
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