Pictures of Africa (working title) is a one-hour documentary in which Rankin discovers contemporary South Africa, a country he has visited many times and that has always intrigued him.
Airing in Spring as part of Wonderful Africa, BBC Four’s Southern Africa Season, the film follows Rankin through a series of encounters with some of South Africa’s most significant photographers from a range of photographic disciplines, including David Goldblatt and Alf Kumalo. Photography has played an important role in South Africa, documenting everything from the quotidian to the historically important. Rankin sees the country through the gaze of its leading photographers; exploring their work, re-visiting locations where they captured their iconic images, and taking his camera with him to document his own personal journey along the way.
Each photographer Rankin met on his trip has a different photographic tradition and their diverse perspectives and ways of working – so distinct from his own – illuminate Rankin’s discovery of today’s South Africa. Alf Kumalo shares his experiences as one of the first black professional photojournalists for Drum Magazine. Launched in 1951, Drum was the first black lifestyle publication in South Africa, and quickly became the most widely read magazine in the continent. Celebrating black South African culture, Drum regularly featured the most important cultural figures of the time, including Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela of the Sophiatown jazz scene. Trained by the critically acclaimed Jurgen Schadeberg, Drum’s first picture editor, Kumalo often took photographs in extraordinary situations and shares with Rankin some of his clever and innovative photojournalistic tricks.
Rankin also meets David Goldblatt, one of the most internationally recognised contemporary South African photographers. A documentary photographer with a career spanning more than five decades, Goldblatt was one of the few white South African photographers to create intimate and insightful portraits of South African communities, including the Afrikaners.
Greg Marinovich and Joao Silver are the two surviving members of The Bang Bang Club, whose reportage photography during the violent transition to democracy in the early 1990s regularly bore witness to some of the most dangerous conflict situations. The story of the four young photographers, the subject of their autobiographical book, ultimately ended in tragedy with Ken Oosterbroek killed in-action, Greg Marinovich seriously injured and Kevin Carter committing suicide, in part due to the guilt at his having survived and the trauma of witnessing so much suffering.
Rankin goes out into the city streets of Johannesburg with Lolo Veleko, the youngest of the photographers he encounters. Best known for her vibrant, street fashion portraits that give a glimpse of youth culture and fashion in contemporary South Africa, Veleko uses her work to question the perceived relationship between fashion and identity.
As well as meeting the country’s leading photographers, Rankin explores the unique African tradition of studio photography. With photography still a relatively expensive medium, social portraiture sprang up all over Africa. The studio portrait offered a tradition of magic and escapism. South Africans could have their portraits taken against backdrops far removed from their own worlds and would get photographs taken to show themselves doing well after moving to the city, or posing with the latest objects to signify their success, as well as to commemorate personal landmarks. Assisted by former students of Alf Kumalo’s photography college, Rankin recreates a shoot in the style of Bobson Studios, learning about this photographic tradition and its importance to African people.