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Graeme Williams
Graeme Williams
Graeme Williams

Graeme Williams

Country: South Africa
Birth: 1961

I grew up in the whites-only suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa during the apartheid era when South African law decreed that 92% of the population were regulated to the status of second-class citizens.

My interest in photography began at the age of twelve, but I soon realized that a Kodak Instamatic was never going to produce the results that I wanted. I worked for three years in a bookshop and eventually bought myself a Fujica ST701. It was a real thing of beauty; a single reflex camera with a basic zoom lens, that provided me with the means to control how light formed itself onto the surface of the silver halide film. Sunsets and silhouettes held my attention for a few months, but I had already begun to explore the complex tradition of photographic expression. Life Magazine was for me, at that time, the Holy Grail. Over the years, my enthusiasm for exploring the photographic medium has never diminished.

My photographic momentum was temporarily diverted after school by parental pressure to obtain a 'proper' qualification. In my final school year, I was both the Dux scholar as well as a first-team sportsman, which resulted in me being offered a De Beers bursary to study Geology and Statistics at the University of Cape Town. After graduating, I broke the news to my unnerved parents that I was giving up this career path and instead of becoming a property photographer at the local newspaper. In the hierarchy of photographic jobs, this is very close to the bottom. My immediate aim was to gain access to unlimited amounts of film and the time to work on my own projects.

In 1987 I began photographing a conscientious objector and medical doctor, Ivan Toms, who refused to comply with the apartheid government's military service requirements. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison. The essay highlighted the absurdity of the political system. Renowned photographer, David Goldblatt, took an interest in this work and this interaction led to a three-decade relationship in which he became both a mentor and a friend. The rights to my essay on Ivan Toms were bought by Life magazine the following year.

Much of my work during this period was motivated by the desire to expose the social inequalities and racial divisions within my country. I eventually joined the strongly anti-apartheid collective, Afrapix, and later became a founding member and manager of the documentary collective, South Photographs.

In 1989, the beginning of the end of apartheid was evident. I was eager to situate myself in a position that would afford me the best opportunities to witness the transition to democracy. I joined Reuters News Agency as a permanent stringer and for the next five years, I became immersed in the events, both violent and momentous, that led up to the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994. Many of my photographs from this period have taken on a life of their own. The image of Nelson Mandela walking out of prison with his wife, Winnie, has been exhibited and published worldwide. In 2008, as Barack Obama fought John McCain for the presidency, Newsweek magazine ran a story asking each candidate to choose an image that best personified their worldview. Obama's team chose an image that I photographed in Thokoza township in 1991. Last year the same photograph became central in a high-profile image-appropriation dispute between me and New York artist, Hank Willis Thomas. There was a massive groundswell of support from colleagues and media from around the world. An amicable settlement was reached.

Since 1994 I have concentrated on producing personalized and contemporary bodies of work that reflect this complex country and the continent as a whole. These essays have been shown in solo exhibitions in New York, London, Paris, Cape Town, and Johannesburg as well as numerous photo festivals around the world. (Including China, Singapore, Brazil, Cambodia, France, and the USA). I have been privileged to have been included in major international exhibitions showcasing contemporary South African photography; including Figures and Fictions at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, Apartheid and After at Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, Earth Matters at the Smithsonian in New York, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid at the ICP in New York and Being There, at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. Awards include the CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography (Basel) in 2013 and the Ernest Cole Award (South Africa) in the same year.

I have continued working on commissioned assignments and traveling to over fifty countries. My photographs have appeared on the cover of Time magazine twice, and have been published in The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Newsweek, Stern, and many others.

Whilst working on my long-term projects, I try to bear in mind how the work will be exhibited and published. So, therefore, during the planning and photographing stages, I attempt to create a broad context for my essays, that includes a general look and feel while creating the space for each image to convey its individual complexity. This need to develop a dual awareness in my personal work has benefitted me from a long-term interest in designing and producing photobooks. I have created over 20 publications, some of them winning awards and many being shortlisted in dummy book competitions.

During the past five years, I have felt a need to shift my attention from South Africa to the American social, political, and physical landscape. Some of my motivations for this change in direction have been outlined within the 'Plan' document. In 2016 I was granted a residency in the US by the Ampersand Foundation, giving me an opportunity to develop a body of work that interrogated the social strata within the greater community of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I designed and produced a book called, Diverging Dreamlines that included, portraits, urban landscapes as well as multi-image, digital, illustrations. The publication was chosen as "best of the show" in the Annual Photobook Exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts. The work was also included in the Unmasked exhibition at Axis Gallery, New York in 2017.

Earlier this year (2019) I co-presented a paper, Over Time, at the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) Congress held in London. Four of my personal essays were incorporated into the presentation, allowing a psychoanalytical exploration into the parallels between this photographic record and South Africa's dynamics and process of change.

I have participated in various mentorship programs, supporting students from South African photographic institutions: Tierney Fellowship winners from the University of the Witwatersrand (2018/2019) and the Market Photo Workshop (2015/2016). As well as candidates from the Photographer incubator Program in 2016.

Learn more about Graeme Williams on videos:

Victoria and Albert Museum
Photography and Democracy
South African Studios
Dwell in Possibility opening

Check out Graeme Williams's interview about his latest project America Revisited

Selected Books on Available on Amazon
Diverging Dreamlines
 

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More Great Photographers To Discover

Richard Kalvar
United States
1944
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1983
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Erwin Blumenfeld
Germany/United States
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Caterina Bernardi
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Margaret Bourke-White
United States
1904 | † 1971
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Charles Scowen
United Kingdom
1852 | † 1948
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David Pace
United States
1951 | † 2020
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Karen Knorr
United States
1954
Karen Knorr was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and was raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1960s. She finished her education in Paris and London. Karen has taught, exhibited and lectured internationally, including at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The University of Westminster, Goldsmiths, Harvard and The Art Institute of Chicago. She studied at the University of Westminster in the mid-1970s, exhibiting photography that addressed debates in cultural studies and film theory concerning the ‘politics of representation’ practices which emerged during the late 1970s qnd early 1980s. She is currently Professor of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey. Karen Knorr produced Belgravia (1979-1981) a series of black and white photographs with ironic and humorous texts that highlighted aspirations, lifestyle and the British class system under the neo liberalist Thatcher era in the late 70’s and early 80’s. 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These strategies still appear in her photography today with digital collage of animals, objects and social actors in museums and architecture challenging the authority and power of heritage sites in Europe and more recently in India. Academies (1994- 2001), a series of colour photographs taken in academies and museums across Europe, reflects on the relationship between the production of western fine art, its transmission and consumption. The work continues a critical dialogue with conceptual art, visual culture, feminism and animal studies reflecting an engaged interest in theory and its relation to photographic practice. In 1995 the Academies project included video and installation with wall text transfers in order the explore the relationship between art and science in the staging of transgressive performative events and gestures in museums. Being for Another (1995), an 18 minute video records a young man caressing an 18th century sculpture by Canova in the Victoria and Albert Museum and three lifeclass models enact the lifeclass on the dissecting table of the anatomy theatre of Uppsala University in Lessons (2002). The introduction of a sound glass sculpture with recorded birdsong responded to the furniture and art collection of The Wallace Collection in 2001 synthesizing a 1960’s Pete Seeger song with an actual blackbird’s sound. In her series Fables (2004-2008) photographs mixes analogue and digital photography playfully reconfiguring tales (Ovid, Aesop La Fontaine) with popular culture (Disney and Attenborough) in museums and heritage sites which include Carnavalet Museum, the Museum of Hunt and Nature in Paris, Chambord Castle and the Conde Museum in Chantilly Castle. The visuality of these photographs is rich with reference to the baroque. In the last section of the work, Knorr interrogated the free flowing space of modern architecture in Corbusier’s Villa Savoye reintroducing life into the modernist aesthetic of a building. Since her life changing journey to Rajasthan, India in 2008, Karen Knorr’s work continues to explore Rajput and Mughal cultural heritage and its relationship to questions of feminine subjectivity and animality. India Song, a series of carefully crafted photographs explores the past and its relation to India’s contemporary heritage sites across Rajasthan. Since 2012 Knorr has been visiting Japan to reflect on tradition within contemporary Japan referencing Ukiyo-e prints and folktales connected to Shinto and Buddhist heritage sites.Her first series entitled Monagatari, places animals and humans in temple sites found in Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo and Ohara. Her second related series Karyukai is inspired by the Kano’s 36 portraits of poets also referencing “bijinga” prints of the 17th century. Women photographed by Karen Knorr were asked to compose waka and haiku reflecting on their life and dreams. Source: karenknorr.com About India Song Karen Knorr’s past work from the 1980’s onwards took as its theme the ideas of power that underlie cultural heritage, playfully challenging the underlying assumptions of fine art collections in academies and museums in Europe through photography and video. Since 2008 her work has taken a new turn and focused its gaze on the upper caste culture of the Rajput in India and its relationship to the "other" through the use of photography, video and performance. The photographic series considers men's space (mardana) and women's space (zanana) in Mughal and Rajput palace architecture, havelis and mausoleums through large format digital photography. Karen Knorr celebrates the rich visual culture, the foundation myths and stories of northern India, focusing on Rajasthan and using sacred and secular sites to consider caste, femininity and its relationship to the animal world. Interiors are painstakingly photographed with a large format Sinar P3 analogue camera and scanned to very high resolution. Live animals are inserted into the architectural sites, fusing high resolution digital with analogue photography. Animals photographed in sanctuaries, zoos and cities inhabit palaces, mausoleums , temples and holy sites, interrogating Indian cultural heritage and rigid hierarchies. Cranes, zebus, langurs, tigers and elephants mutate from princely pets to avatars of past feminine historic characters, blurring boundaries between reality and illusion and reinventing the Panchatantra for the 21st century.
Emmet Gowin
United States
1941
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Later, he applied what he learned from his early years wandering in the woods and marshes to his photography. A student of his said "Photography, with Emmet, became the study of everything." After graduating from high school he attended the Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). During his first year in college he saw a catalog of the Family of Man exhibit and was particularly inspired by the works of Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. About this same time he met his future wife, Edith Morris, who had grown up about a mile away from Gowin in Danville. They married in 1964, and she quickly became both his muse and his model. Later they had two sons, Elijah Gowin (also a photographer in his own right) and Isaac. Some of his earliest photographic vision was inspired by Edith's large and engaging family, who allowed him to record what he called "a family freshly different from my own." He said "I wanted to pay attention to the body and personality that had agreed out of love to reveal itself." In 1965, Gowin attended the Rhode Island School of Design. While earning his MFA, Gowin studied under influential American photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. Three years later he was given his first solo exhibition at the Dayton Art Institute. In 1970 his work was shown at the George Eastman House and a year later at the Museum of Modern Art. About this same time he was introduced to the photographer Frederick Sommer, who became his lifelong mentor and friend. Emmet Gowin was invited by Peter Bunnell in 1973 to teach photography at Princeton University. Over the next 25 years, he both taught new students and, by his own admission, continually learned from those he taught. At the end of each academic year he asked his students to contribute one photograph to a portfolio that was open to critique by all of the students; he intentionally included one of his own photographs as a reminder that, while a teacher, "he was just another humble student of art." Gowin received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974, which allowed him to travel throughout Europe. He was also awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1979 and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 1994. In 1980 Gowin received a scholarship from the Seattle Arts Commission which provided funding for him to travel in Washington and the Pacific Northwest. Beginning with a trip to Mount St. Helens soon after it erupted, Gowin began taking aerial photographs. For the next twenty years, Gowin captured strip mining sites, nuclear testing fields, large-scale agricultural fields and other scars in the natural landscape. In 1982 the Gowins were invited by Queen Noor of Jordan, who had studied with Gowin at Princeton, to photograph historic places in her country. He traveled there over the next three years and took a series of photographs of the archaeological site at Petra. The prints he made of these images were the first time he introduced photographic print toning in his work. Gowin retired from teaching at Princeton University at the end of 2009 and lives in Pennsylvania with his wife Edith. Gowin has acknowledged that the photographs of Eugene Atget, Bill Brandt, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Alfred Stieglitz, and especially Harry Callahan and Frederick Sommer have influenced him. Most of his early family pictures were taken with a 4 X 5 camera on a tripod, a situation in which he said "both the sitter and photographer look at each other, and what they both see and feel is part of the picture." These photos feel both posed and highly intimate at the same time, often capturing seemingly long and direct stares from his wife or her family members or appearing to intrude on a personal family moment. Gowin once said that "the coincidence of the many things that fit together to make a picture is singular. They occur only once. They never occur for you in quite the same way that they occur for someone else, so that in the tiny differences between them you can reemploy a model or strategy that someone else has used and still reproduce an original picture. Those things that do have a distinct life of their own strike me as being things coming to you out of life itself." In an essay for the catalog for an exhibition of his work at Yale University, writer Terry Tempest Williams said "Emmet Gowin has captured on film the state of our creation and, conversely, the beauty of our losses. And it is full of revelations."Source: Wikipedia Following his marriage to Edith Morris in 1964, Gowin began taking portraits of his wife and extended family in Virginia. Capturing the ordinary yet intimate moments of everyday life, these photographs often resemble personal snapshots: his niece Nancy in the grass with dolls; Edith in their living room on Christmas morning; Edith and her two sisters in the backyard. Apart from their domestic setting and familial subjects, however, Gowin's pictures transcend documentation. Gowin's sensitivity to the nuances of daily events coupled with formally elegant compositions imbue his photographs with particular gravity. Honest, tender, spontaneous, and humorous in tone, they are personal yet universal reflections on the close bond shared between relatives. Some of Gowin's photographs feature images within a circular frame, a visual device discovered by chance in 1967. Allowing the camera lens to dictate the shape of the image, Gowin invites viewers to take a privileged glimpse, as if through a peephole, into his private world. An influential figure in the history of photography, Emmet Gowin (b. 1941, Danville, VA) received an MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1967. While at RISD, he studied with photographer Harry Callahan, who, along with Frederick Sommer, became one of his mentors and greatest influences. Since 1973 Gowin has been on the faculty at Princeton University, where he is currently a professor of photography in the Visual Arts Program. Gowin is the recipient of numerous honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1974), two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1977, 1979), a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (1993), the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University (1997), and the Princeton Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities (2006). For nearly four decades, Gowin's work has been widely exhibited in the U.S. and abroad, with solo shows and retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1971); the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1983); the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1990-93); the Espace Photographie Mairie de Paris (1992); the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (2002); the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City (2003); the El Paso Museum of Art (2004); and the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge (2004). His photographs can be found in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Tokyo Museum of Art.Source: Pace/MacGill Gallery
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