I learned yesterday of the passing on October 21, 2012, of South African photojournalist Alf Kumalo. Last week we spoke about an exhibit of Vietnam War era journalist photographs. Two images in particular stood out in my mind: Edie Adams’ “Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing the Viet Cong Guerilla, Bay Lop, 1968” and Nick Ut’s “Children Fleeing South Vietnamese Air Force Napalm Attack on the Village of Trang Bang, 1972” These two pictures, arguably more than any others turned American sentiment against the Vietnam War and ultimately ended it, Alf Kumalo’s work had a similar effect on a generation of South Africans and contributed significantly to the end of apartheid.
It has always amazed me how a photojournalist, when confronted by a horrific scene, can have the presence of mind to abstract him or herself, at least long enough to compose and take a photograph. In this context, it is all the more significant that Kumalo, as a black African male, was himself subjected to the same harassment and beatings by authorities as his subjects. He not only chronicled what he saw but lived it.
For a brief biography of his life I suggest visiting his obituary in the New York Times. For those of you who would like to see print images, I suggest his photo-biography “Through my Lens.” And finally in memoriam view Alf Kumalo’s works online, visit Axis Gallery. We may reflect, that this is why photography matters.