Alf Kumalo: Through My Lens Launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation
The launch of Through My Lens by Alf Kumalo was a happy celebration at the Nelson Mandela Foundation earlier this week. Somehow just having a launch at the Foundation brings out that sparkling touch of Madiba magic, with guests arriving dressed in their finest.
In the foyer, the Kings of Harmony choir brought beautiful voices and a touch of African rhythm to the night – the kind that gets you smiling and tapping your feet. NMF staff joined in with joyous ululating while friends, family and guests warmly embraced each other.
The book and the occasion served to honour Alf Kumalo and the exhaustive body of work which he has produced through his years as a photographer. Large banners capturing some of the themes and great moments of his work were placed throughout the venue and served as eye-catching reminders of the visual “poetry” of his photography.
After enjoying the welcome drinks, guests and media moved into the auditorium for the launch proper. Verne Harris, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation, spoke in the stead of Achmat Dangor, saying, “Alf is very good at what he does, he’s always where the action is with a camera”. Harris praised Kumalo’s skill as a photojournalist and his unique ability to combine it with an artist’s craft. He said, “Every image in the book is a work of art”.
Harris reminded the audience of how Madiba does not want the work at the Foundation’s Centre of Memory and Dialogue to concentrate on himself alone, as an individual, but on how he was a part of a collective. Harris stated that Kumalo’s voice “through his images” is one of the important voices of the collective.
Next up was Tanya Farber, who wrote the words for this iconic new book. Having known Kumalo for 10 years, Farber noted how his work was a long and hard fight, not just a happy accident of fate. “He worked hard to be at events such as the Women’s March and the Sharpeville Massacre”. She jokingly noted how he always has “a camera as medallion around his neck” and that this night of all nights was the one time she was seeing him without it! She acknowledged the great privilege of being able to get to know “the man behind the legend” and how proud she is to have been part of making the book.
The Press Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe, then joined Kumalo for a discussion of his work. Thloloe likened Kumalo’s photography to poetry and called him “a great creator in light and shade”. Kumalo spoke of how enjoys “catching moments” rather than posing pictures and emphasised that photography is “all about light”. Both men recalled events from South Africa’s past, now captured in the book, breathing life and movement into South Africa’s Apartheid history. Pressed on whether he’d ever retire, Kumalo said he would simply take up using a digital camera when he starts walking with a cane.
The launch ended with sincere thanks from Kumalo to his family, colleagues, launch guests and all involved with the book. Guests then quickly dashed downstairs to buy Through My Lens, and a spontaneous and gleefully convivial party-within-in-a-party seem to erupt in the long book signing queue.