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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

Wayne Miller
United States
1918 | † 2013
Wayne Forest Miller (September 19, 1918 – May 22, 2013) was an American photographer known for his series of photographs The Way of Life of the Northern Negro. Active as a photographer from 1942 until 1975, he was a contributor to Magnum Photos beginning in 1958. Miller was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of a doctor and a nurse, who gave him a camera as a high school graduation present. He went on to study banking at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, while also working on the side as a photographer. From 1941 to 1942 he studied at the Art Centre School of Los Angeles. He then served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy where he was assigned to Edward Steichen's World War II Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. He was among the first Western photographers to document the destruction at Hiroshima. After the war he resettled in Chicago. He won two consecutive Guggenheim Fellowships in 1946-1948, with which he worked on The Way of Life of the Northern Negro. These images were published in his book Chicago's South Side 1946-1948,. This project documented the wartime migration of African Americans northward, specifically looking at the black community on the south side of Chicago, covering all the emotions in daily life. The people depicted are mostly ordinary people, but some celebrities appear, such as Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Paul Robeson. Wayne Miller taught at the Institute of Design in Chicago before commissioning a Modernist house for their growing family from architect Mario Corbett in Orinda, California in 1953. He was freelancing for Life and with his wife Joan also worked with Edward Steichen as an associate curator for The Family of Man exhibition and accompanying book which opened at New York City's Museum of Modern Art in 1955. Steichen selected eight of Miller's photographs, including two of the birth of the photographer's son, for the show which traveled the world and was seen by more than 9 million visitors. Miller died on May 22, 2013, at his home in Orinda, California, age 94, survived by his wife of 70 years, the former Joan Baker (January 21, 1921 – March 7, 2014), and children Jeanette Miller, David Miller, Dana Blencowe, and Peter Miller. The Wayne Miller Archive is held at the Center for Creative Photography (University of Arizona). Source: Wikipedia Born in Chicago, Wayne F. Miller studied banking at the University of Illinois, Urbana, while working part-time as a photographer. He went on to study photography at the Art Center School of Los Angeles from 1941 to 1942. Miller served in the United States Navy, where he was assigned to Edward Steichen’s Naval Aviation Unit. After the war he settled in Chicago and worked as a freelancer. In 1946-48, he won two consecutive Guggenheim Fellowships and photographed African-Americans in the northern states. Wayne Miller taught photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago, then in 1949 moved to Orinda, California, and worked for LIFE until 1953. For the next two years he was Edward Steichen’s assistant on the Museum of Modern Art’s historic exhibit, The Family of Man. A long-time member of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, he was named its chairman in the summer of 1954. He became a member of Magnum Photos in 1958, and served as its president from 1962 to 1966. His ambition throughout this period was, in his words, to “photograph mankind and explain man to man”. Having been active in environmental causes since the 1960s, Miller then went to work with the National Park Service. He joined the Corporation of Public Broadcasting as executive director of the Public Broadcasting Environmental Center in 1970. After he retired from professional photography in 1975, he devoted himself to protection of California’s forests. Along the way, Miller co-authored A Baby's First Year with Dr Benjamin Spock, and wrote his own book, The World is Young.Source: Magnum Photos
Sasha Stone
Russia/United States
1895 | † 1940
Sasha Stone was a Russian artist. A stateless photographer, he and his first wife, Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout 1892-1975), were successful photographers during the 1920s and 1930s. One of his most known work is the cover of Walter Benjamin's book One-Way Street published in 1928. Sasha was born as Aleksander Steinsapir to Jewish parents, Natan Steinsapir and Bella Meerson, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He studied electrical engineering at Warsaw Technical Institute in Poland from 1911 to 1913. In 1913, he immigrated to New York and spent a few years working briefly at the Edison Company in New Jersey. In 1917, Sasha enlisted in the United States Army, served in WWI and was honorably discharged on June 14, 1919. While in the United States Army he was granted a stay at the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Art Training Centre in Paris after the war. After his military discharge, Sasha lived in the Rue de Plantes, Paris, and worked as a sculptor. In 1918, Sasha and Cami moved to Berlin together and later married in 1922. When he moved to Berlin, he kept his studio in Rue de Plantes for his cousin Harry Ossip Meerson to use; however, Meerson failed to pay rent and was evicted. In Berlin, Sasha was associated with the sculptor Aleksandr Archipenko, and was a contributor to the magazine G-Material für elementare Gestaltung. His work was published in Die Form, Das Kunstblatt, UHU, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, Der Querschnitt, Gebrauchsgraphik, and Die Dame as well. In 1924, Sasha and Cami opened their own studio in Berlin, named Atelier Stone, meaning “Studio Stone”. In 1928, he officially changed his name to Sasha Stone and became a painter. He had little success as an artist. Due to an economic downturn in Europe during this period, Sasha focused on photography as a main source of income. Sasha had become an extremely versatile photographer, working with portraits, journalism, feature images, advertising, property, fashion, and architecture photos. His photos appeared in Adolf Behne's edition of Berlin in Bildern, and Paul Cohen–Portheim's travel guide Paris. Sasha took images for surrealist journals like Varietés in Belgium and Bilfur in Paris. His work was presented in the first international photography exhibition called Fotografie der Gegenwart in Essen, Germany, and Werkbund's exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1931, Sasha and Cami moved to Brussels, Cami's hometown, where they lived until they divorced. In 1933, the couple were part of the Exposition Internationale de la Photographie in Brussels. A collection of nudes by Sasha and Cami Stone was published in Les Femmes through the French magazine Arts et Metiers Graphique in 1933. Throughout this time Sasha was connected with artists, celebrities and intellectuals of that period. Sasha and Cami divorced on February 15, 1939. They continued to work together until Sasha remarried. On April 29, 1939, Sasha Stone remarried, to Lydia Edens (born Alida Anna Edens). Sasha, Lydia and other families fled the German attack on Brussels on May 14, 1940. Their goal was to reach Spain and then go to the United States for safety. The group was en route through the Pyrénées in Perpignan, France. On August 6, 1940, Sasha died in Perpignan due to a serious ailment. The exact location of his grave is unknown. The only thing left is the graveyard book entry.Source: Wikipedia Best known for his photomontage reproduced on the cover of Walter Benjamin's book One-Way Street (1928), Stone was closely associated with the New Objectivity movement of the 1920s in Germany. From 1924 to 1931, he operated a successful photographic studio in Berlin. He contributed photo reportage to many of the major illustrated magazines, including Uhu, Die Dame, and Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and was celebrated for his innovative advertising work. In 1933 the French magazine Arts et Metiers Graphique published Femmes, a portfolio of Stone's studies of female nudes, as the first in a series of three planned portfolios on the human body. (The other two, Hommes and Adolescents, were never realized.) Stone's photographs, with their fragmented figures, angular compositions, and use of raking light, are superb examples of avant-garde photographic aesthetics in Europe between the world wars.Source: The Met
Nick Turpin
United Kingdom
1969
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