Jürgen Schadeberg

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Voices from the Land 2005

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By Jurgen Schadeberg

The power of the image was never more effective than in the early thirties in America when it brought about positive change in society. The legendary Farmers’ Security Administration Photographic Exhibition, directed by renowned documentary photographer Stryker, on the conditions of farm workers during the Depression, made such an impact on American society that it succeeded, by highlighting the plight of the farmers, in bringing about government intervention to improve conditions for this marginalized section of society.

In 1952 Jurgen Schadeberg, along with investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo, produced a series of now historic images for Drum Magazine which focused on the brutal working conditions of the farm labourers in Bethal which forced the Apartheid government to investigate labour conditions on farms. In 1953 Jurgen also did a photo study on the tot system in the Cape wine farms which exposed again the unacceptable working conditions on farms.

In the same spirit of effecting positive change in the farming community Jurgen Schadeberg is planning to produce a major photo essay which looks at the living and working conditions of the farmers and farm workers on South African farms today…from the mealie and potato farm to the vegetable and fruit farm to the poultry and cattle farm. This 6 month project will examine farm conditions in all the 9 provinces looking at the successful farms now being taken over by black communities and also at those farms which, due to mismanagement, have failed, and why. We will also look at farms where labour conditions are still unacceptable and farm workers are exploited and ill treated by the farmers.

We will document the daily life, work, education and recreation of the people and the families who live on farms and examine children’s issues, women’s issues, health issues, housing issues and human rights issues.

This photographic essay will compliment the research work commissioned by the funding organization Atlantic Philanthropies such as a study on farm schools by the Wits law Clinic, a study on farm evictions by Social Surveys and research on farmworkers conditions by the organization Nkuzi in the Limpopo province.

A component of the photo project will include a student assistanceship in photography and technical support. Jurgen has been training photo students for some 53 years now and he has produced such talented protegees as Peter Magubane and Bob Gosani.

While the images will bring an added dimension to the research they can also be used in a touring photographic exhibition to highlight the current situation on farms today. In order to respond positively to problems that might arise in this often volatile section of society it is important to have a record of the “good, the bad and the ugly” of farms today. In making people aware of the realities of farm life today, both the positive and the negative, a greater understanding of the problems will help lead to positive solutions to a peaceful, harmonious and profitable farming community. Our aim is that the project will unite and benefit everyone in the agricultural sector.

This investigative photo project will produce a variety of images, some predictable and some not. We approach the project with an open mind and in the end it’s the image which will tell the story. Jurgen Schadeberg’s 53 years experience in documentary photography will undoubtedly benefit this major project.