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date: 20 November 2019

Cole, Ernest locked

(b Eersterust, March 21, 1940; d New York City, Feb 18, 1990).
  • Allison Moore


(b Eersterust, March 21, 1940; d New York City, Feb 18, 1990).

South African photojournalist, active also in the USA. Cole, of Bapedi ethnicity, grew up in a black township near Pretoria. His father was a tailor and his mother a washerwoman. One of six children, he suffered from malnutrition. Cole hoped to become a doctor, but the Bantu Education Act (a 1953 segregation law) prevented this, so he left school at the age of 16 and eventually worked for a Chinese studio photographer before being hired in 1958 at Drum, a picture magazine about black life. At that time he began a correspondence course from the New York Institute of Photography.

Cole was inspired by the American Civil Rights movement to document the horrors of apartheid in the hope of fomenting political action. In 1959 he began photographing black South African life. Under the hierarchical system of racial categorization in his home country, Cole was considered ‘black’, which greatly limited his access to spaces and events. However, Cole convinced the authorities that he was ‘Coloured’ (mixed race) and thereby increased his journalistic access. He hid his camera and disguised himself in order to document scenes that the authorities hoped to censor. In ...

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