Graeme Williams – Shooting Apartheid (Part 4)
Posted on March 30, 2012
Graeme’s photographs of today bear little resemblance to the violence he once photographed. However there is still the despair and the contrast between the haves and the have-nots.
Most recently Graeme returned to some of the locations where he once took photographs during that tumultuous period. Some locations present stark changes, while others are frighteningly similar.
Graeme describes looking for a house, which was in one of his photographs, taken about 18 years earlier. A woman stands in front of the house. In his search to rediscover the location , he stopped to inquire with a man.
“I just started chatting with him and I showed him this photograph and I said ‘I’ve been looking for this house’.
“And he says ‘I know that woman’.” After determining that Graeme was not the police, nor conducting his search for any untoward reason, the man took Graeme to the house.
“I knocked on the door and I show this woman, now 34 years old, the original photograph and… it was like a real connection. Here we were just two arbitrary people who connected 18 years ago. It turned into a bit of a spontaneous reunion. And it was quite an amazing moment.”
His photographs in this latest series are presented alongside the old photographs – a kind of ‘then and now’ perspective. His other photographs from that period of violence in the 90’s, he says, show up from time to time, sometimes in places most unexpected.
In 2008, as Barack Obama sought Presidency and raced for the position against John McCain, Newsweek magazine ran a story with two photographs that best represented the candidates. Graeme’s iconic photograph (pictured in the gallery) of children skylarking in front of a fence, where just beyond, gun-toting police sit watching an ANC rally, was selected as the photo to represent Barack Obama.
Graeme shies away from acknowledging the significance of this tale.
“I don’t know if the big man saw the picture and said ‘oh I want this one’.”
“It was in the lead up to the election and Newsweek did a piece on him and John McCain and they chose one photograph each to represent each person.
“There must have been some input because everything is so carefully managed. During campaign times I don’t know how close it got to the big man…”
He wasn’t foretold of this inclusion in the magazine, he says.
“It was just so weird because I just happened to pick up Newsweek in the local newsagent and then I read what it was about and I just thought, that’s quite amazing. It was a photograph. You often don’t know how things are used.”
And the accolades continue.
When I first had the pleasure of meeting Graeme in the Republic of Guinea in 2011, he told me on our final day travelling together that at that moment, an exhibition of his work was being held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. No small feat for any artist. And that is just what his work has become – art.
Graeme has shifted from a young man who fearlessly and famously secured photographs that enlightened the world to the plight of South Africa, to a more contemplative artist. His photographs communicate his feelings and moods about a subject, rather than the direct documentary style of the past. Yet they are still largely of South Africa, demonstrating his unwavering passion, and they still paint a poignant story for the world to see.
Photographs in this gallery demonstrate Graeme’s newer works, with the exception of the Newsweek-selected photograph of the ANC rally.
Video interview of Graeme on the Victoria & Albert Museum website
Other interesting videos:
Nelson Mandela interview
Desmond Tutu interview