Ernest Cole was the son of a washerwoman and tailor. He quit school at age 16 in 1957 in South Africa. He pretended to be an orphan and was able to convince authorities to reclassify him as colored or mixed-race, no doubt helped by his fluency in Afrikaans. This mobility (as a colored person in South Africa compared to a black South African) aided his interest and work in photography. By age 20, his family home and township were bulldozed down, considered a “black spot” by the authorities.
Ernest was inspired to write Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “People of Moscow” Ernest was inspired to create a photographic portrait of Black life in South Africa. Taking his camera into intimate spaces of work and public life, he took pictures to create a frightening pictorial record of life in South Africa at the time. He went into exile in 1966 and the next year his work, “House of Bondage” was released in the United States, though it was not allowed in his home country.
In the 70’s and 80’s he was destitute in New York City and died in 1990 just after Mandela became president. His work “House of Bondage” survives today, thank goodness, and you can view some of the photos below.
Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid Slide Show
Why We Fight (a new book on America’s history of war-making)
Haiti One Year Later