Daily Dispatch

Sharp-eyed lensmen on good, ugly of EC

Vet Cedric Nunn in town on promo tour of his new material


THE faces of Buffalo City and Transkei may appear to be wrecked and ruined. But there is also an exciting air of African resurgence, says visiting radical documentar­y photojourn­alist and artist Cedric Nunn, 54.

He launches his book and exhibition Call and Response, a collection of mainly black and white photograph­s from the late 1970s to the present, at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery today at 6.30pm.

Though Nunn will only be touring South Africa to promote the works, Call and Response will also be launched in New York and Berlin simultaneo­usly.

Most of the pictures are shot in film, mainly Ilford at ASA (American Standards Associatio­n) speeds of 160, which is slow, dense and crisp; and ASA 400, which is faster and grainier. Sourcing the film was a difficult task.

However, he said, a photograph printed in a darkroom off a negative and fixed in chemical before being washed and hung up to dry, was hand-made, unique and precious. Digital pictures were mechanical, easy to knock off and prone to hard-drive crashes.

He and his friend, former Daily Dispatch photograph­er Raffique “Rafs” Mayet, 56, spoke of their unorthodox perception­s of the Eastern Cape, newworld geo-politics, economics and thought.

They described a trip taken last week through Mayet’s childhood home in Peffervill­e, adjacent to Duncan Village, as disturbing, but stimulatin­g.

Mayet said: “I grew up in the only shebeen in the street, now the place is full of them.”

Nunn said: “You could see in people’s faces they are wrecked and ruined. These places look completely neglected. There seem to be no services and people look really vulnerable as if they have been left to fend for themselves.

“We also got lost in the [wealthier] suburbs and we were, like, ***! some people are living just fine.”

There were gales of laughter as they described spotting an upmarket furniture store in the central business district, which sold Baroque furniture (which is an exaggerate­d style), and remarked: “This guy has the right plan [for people earning government salaries].”

One store offered a three-piece European lounge set priced up to R70 000 “on lay-by”!

Nunn and Mayet were surprised by the number of new brick homes springing up along the N2 through Transkei, which they speculated were being built with money sent from faraway places like Khayelitsh­a in Cape Town.

Nunn felt that despite challengin­g living conditions confrontin­g large numbers of marginalis­ed and neglected residents, people appeared to be responding with a unique dynamism.

He said capitalist Western thinking battled to comprehend how people survived in the transient spaces they occupied and still made a living.

It was former president Thabo Mbeki who first put his finger on the notion of parallel economies, which emerged and somehow thrived alongside the formal, establishe­d economy, said Nunn.

Internatio­nally, as the West sank into debt and paralysis, young people in the “occupy movement” had woken up and realised an economy based on warfare was bad news.

Nunn spoke passionate­ly about his ancestors, Nunn, Dunn, Nicholson and Louw, who arrived in Kwazulu-natal from rom Britain and Holland after 1820.

Eastern Cape 1820 Settler registers were full of Nunns and Dunns.

Known by historians as “transfront­iersmen”, his four white ancestors “disappeare­d through the [colonial] veil” into Zululand and married the Zulu women Mabaso, Mhlanga, Mgenge and Xulu.

They were motivated by love of their wives and the landscape, political power (some became chiefs or confidante­s and advisers to Zulu royalty), as well as farming and trading opportunit­ies.

One Dunn was killed by an elephant in the area of the Durban port.

His transfront­iersman son, John, wrote that he had “left the confines of civilisati­on to live among the noble people”. However, war in the Zulu kingdom saw the Nunns supporting a losing faction and they were dispossess­ed of 6 000ha of land near Vryheid by the Boers (with Dinezulu’s consent) and fled to Hluhluwe where Cedric was raised.

Nunn said of his 30 years of photograph­ing conflict, struggle and beauty: “I survived!”

He has settled down in one of the last surviving forests in Byrné Valley in Hillcrest, Kwazulu-natal, where, between his travels, he is a hands-on father to his second child, six-year-old daughter, Lara. — mikel@dispatch.co.za

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