Fanie Jason

In today's Spotlight we feature the acclaimed South African photographer Fanie Jason.

Jason is an award winning documentary photographer who has not only chronicled the struggles of South Africa - from Apartheid to democracy - but traveled the world documenting the genocide in Rwanda, the war in the Balkans and the struggles in the West Bank - to name just a few.

I have had the privilege to call Fanie my friend and over years he has shared with me his amazing experiences and the stories of his encounters with the 'great and the good', as well as the stories of the hardships he has faced under apartheid.

For Fanie to have overcome these hardships - in order to become the photographer that he is, from where he has come - he will always have my respect and admiration.

Andrew Jackson.

Above photograph: "Township Jazz" (c) Fanie Jason

"Steve Broadie and Mr Tsonyane in Gugulethu one of the townships about 10Km outside Cape Town. Steve were arrested more then 10 times by the police for being in a black township without the permission of the authorities, and for having a love affair with a black woman. " Fanie Jason



1 How would you describe your photography?

I would describe my photography as social-documentary, because it has been influenced by the vibrancy and hardships of the townships which I grew up in under apartheid. You must remember that I was forced out of a multi-racial area called Heathfield in the 1960s, where I was born; to a black only shanti township.

It was quite amazing that, irrespective of the hardship in that township, every shack had one or another form of musical instrument whilst out of every 10 of those shacks one shack had a piano or a harp. This vibrancy mixed with my blind fathers state grant of about, four pounds quarterly, to provide for six children and a wife had a profound affect upon me.

2 When did you first realise that you wanted to be a photographer?

After dropping out of high school I worked as a sales assistance at the Methodist Publishing House selling bible’s and church hymn books. Photography never came to me I had to go out and find it. But it was hard, as in South Africa, there was no opportunities for black people.

So when a friend of mine with a camera in the township, lent me his camera, I used it as a tool to supplement my meagre income. As an elders son I used photography to help my parents pay for my siblings education. I started taking photographs of birthday parties and went from one house to the next knocking on people’s doors to do their portraits for money. I was a complete self-taught photographer where my photography would improve on the job year after year.

3 What has been the most valuable lesson, training or mentoring that you’ve received?

In the early 1970s I was doing modelling for clothing stores catalogues, but I was more interested in seeing how the photographers worked. After this I then decided that I wanted to become a fashion photographer and I started looking for a job as an assistant photographer.

I eventually got a job as a cleaner at a photography studio but as soon as the photographer of the studio discovered that I was a photographer I got fire, the photographer told me that I was preparing myself for the revolution and that he wasn’t running a school for black photographers.

4 Who has inspired you most in photography?

Ernest Cole a South African photographer. I was really inspired by his work and the obstacles he had to over come.

5 What are you working on right now?

I’m busy putting my first book together after more than forty years in photography

6 What do you have in your camera bag?

Nikon E800 camera with lenses 17-35mm f-28,24-70mm f28 ,70-200mm f28 , medium format Mamiya 7II and lenses.

7 What has been – or is- the biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in your photography?

Racism in South Africa, being held at gunpoint in the States by police for being black, pushed by a right wing Israeli guy with an Uzzi machine gun on the West Bank in Palestine.

I was even arrested for taking photographs under the state of emergency and shot with 32 pellets of birdshot by police in South Africa.

But irrespective of all the barriers I still went onto win photography awards both nationally and internationally - as well as exhibiting and seeing my work published extensively around the world.

8 Which photograph do you wish you'd taken?

A photograph of Mandela while he was on Robben Island

9 Can you recommend a photographer’s work you think our readers should check out?

The late Ernest Cole work on mine workers in the 1960 in South Africa.

10 If you could save one photography book from a fire which one would it be?

House of bondage by Ernest Cole.





Further information about Fanie Jason


16 South African Photographers to know

Okwui Enwezor talks with our editor Matthew Blackman about the exhibition 'Rise and Fall of Apartheid'

Paparazzi photographers shoot from the hip

Blood on the walls as South Africa's national gallery axes first black director

The Post-humanist Gaze: Reading Fanie Jason's Photo Essay on Carting Lives

Representation Matters





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