South African Social Photography: The Moment of Drum

“What we know today as South African photography emerged in 1948,” said the late Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian and world-renowned curator and art critic. He was referring to the emergence of Drum magazine, a magazine that gave urbanized black South Africans a platform to challenge the hegemonic representation of Africans in the print media. This essay is a critical examination of Enwezor’s claim that 1948 was the start of a unique South African (social) photography. The year 1948 was a significant year for the people of both South Africa and Palestine, and in discussing the role of photography in both countries, it will be impossible to avoid the name Susan Sontag (I return to her below). While 1948 was the beginning of political ‘catastrophe’ – for Palestinians, the Nakba, and black South Africans, Apartheid – both were forcibly displaced from their homes and dispossessed of their lands.

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