The South African photographer Cedric Nunn began working professionally as a photographer when he was twenty-five. It was 1983 and South Africa was entering one of the darkest periods in its history. Nunn had joined the agency and collective Afrapix, determined to make images about life in South Africa that he was not seeing in the media. Almost thirty years later, Nunn is firmly established as one of South Africa’s most important photographers. His work has ranged widely across the South African physical and political landscape and he has photographed rallies, funerals, and, in the early 1990s, the momentous political events surrounding Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
Nunn’s most powerful images, however, focus on individuals and lives in places far from the noise of rallies and parades. He has amassed a wealth of images in KwaZulu-Natal—where his own family is from—that capture the minutiae of daily life and serve as one of the most important records of rural South Africa under apartheid. Nunn’s photographs evince a deep compassion for people who struggle for their livelihood in adverse circumstances and his work is at its most eloquent when he is in the homes of tenant farmers, or in country classrooms, or crossing fields with women carrying water and firewood.
Nunn is deeply sensitive to the complexity of life lived in southern Africa. His work in rural areas does not paint a picture of a pastoral idyll but notes the hardships brought on by migrant labour, farm evictions, drought and overgrazing, feudal relationships, and government-fomented factional and tribal rivalries. At the same time, in both his rural and urban images, he notices the small joys of home and community, the nuances of family ties and loyalties, and the extraordinary resilience of ordinary people.
Essays by Okwui Enwezor, Andries Walter Oliphant and Rory Bester