Santu Mofokeng: Master Photographer Chasing Shadows

Santu Mofokeng

On hearing of the death of the mythical South African photographer Santu Mofokeng it felt just like a terrific shadow passing above us, the last withdrawal of a person who illuminates.

Closing, since the guy from Soweto who recorded the outer and inner landscapes of black life during and after apartheid, had dwelt just like a shadow himself for decades as a consequence of a harrowing degenerative disorder, leading to the lack of speech, and many physical ability, certainly not able to shoot any more photos.

Some may take consolation from the idea that shadows were his thing, he monitored the fantastic frailty of humankind that’s that the predilection for chasing darkness.

And the fantastic, transfiguring attractiveness of a lot of his photos — by the caves in Motouleng (2004 – 2007), or the balmy headless horse in the Buddhist escape (2003), along with the ghostly winter scene at Tembisa (1991) — may still hit you like stray bullets.

Santu wasn’t only a photographer, he was a believer in large topics, sculpting allegories, insights and theories in regard to his pictures as he did so. Some may call his announcements aphorisms, but the concept of a fact in a pithy statement wasn’t really a part of his language.

I’m considering the ambiguity of items. This comes not in a place of energy, but needless to say.

He discovered that famous South African photographer David Goldblatt’s fascination with the occurrence of things, their ‘is-ness’ as Goldblatt place it crystallized his own place: “I am not like this.”

Both of these great photographers said they weren’t thinking about photographing violence. Santu’s motive? It was unnecessary, since “the violence is at the understanding”.

In the memorial ceremony held following his passing at the college on 30 January 2020, I discovered that he never spoke about what occurred at the moment. Violence of numerous types already pressed down many South Africans, it had been the zones of miasma in people’s heads and about them that fascinated him as a photographer, in addition to their flickering moments of transcendence.

Poisoned Landscapes

Santu’s later work on climate change surely took on those things: the individual frame of mind, and also the condition of the planet. As he moved to his huge subject of poisoned landscapes, he changed out of what he termed individuals’s “psychic rupture using all the property” into the property’s own rupturing with itself.

He pulls out the seeping indications of processes occurring in and around the ground, frequently coming from underground, metabolizing as poisonous, cancerous, or emerging as slow encrustations and eroded rifts.

A lot of the work is portentous, menacing, pointing towards the unknown in the brink of components, be it water, ground, fire or air. From the photos of the replacement of sand onto Durban’s South Beach (2007), the flying gobs seem like a few planetary constellation or biblical plague as well as the earth has been framed as flying in pieces throughout the skies.

In terms of people’s state of mind about climate change, Santu was asked to ask the question: how exactly can you picture anxiety? In reality, “It has always been around not understanding.” While some continents burn off and many others continue to unfreeze, we ought to recall that

Pictures put the floor in regard to what would be the difficulties.

No Southern African photographer leaves a substantial legacy for the nation to consider as it experiences the more quickly unfolding issues and catastrophes of climate change.

However, Santu never took it for granted that his photos would be read together with all the subtlety of his own idea as he considered what he’d seen.

You create the images, you understand how they are going to be performed… It is not like I am impartial, but I do not let – that I do not want – folks to make me believe how that they do.

A fantastic shadow, and he’s passed. The photos he made and what he said must make us go about believing. We aren’t done since he’s not done. His work stays.