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Don’t expect to see pretty pictures


Cultural Anthropology is a subject, in which we learn about different people and cultures, their past and present, as well their traditions, material culture and environment. These lectures are very interesting to us, because we learn new things about others, which we haven’t even heard before.

This time our preIB class focused on every day and political life of white and black South Africans. On November 14th, we visited Adamson-Eric-museum to see the exhibit “The Measure of Humanity – 45 Years of Documentary Photography in South Africa”. We could see an exceptional collection of photographs made by Juhan Kuus.
The photographs presented in this Museum were mesmerizing, they were the best and they showed us stories which are untold. It’s true that one picture can tell more than thousand words!

Estonian rooted photographer Juhan Kuus (1953–2015) started working as a photo reporter at the age of 17, and developed into one of the most influential and radical photographers of South Africa during his 45-year-long career. His photos, which were taken with utter devotion, direct poignancy and unyieldingly close contact to what he was shooting, found their way into the world’s leading newspapers, journals, exhibitions and photo festivals. He received dozens of awards, including South-Africa Press Photographer of the Year on several occasions, and is the only photographer of Estonian decedent ever to have received the most prestigious press photo award in the world: The World Press Photo Award, which he won twice, in 1978 and 1992.

In Adamson-Eric Museum we were guided by Liis Kibuspuu, who is responsible of educational programs. She gave us the tour in photo exhibit and afterwards we had a workshop in two groups. First we could see very interesting documentary photographs about of what was really happening in South-Africa. Juhan Kuus’ best works are not limited to news photography. First and foremost, he considered himself to be an anthropologist-documentarian, whose photos narrate deeply humane stories about South-African people, regardless of their racial background. His photos recorded the fighting and brutal violence of the fierce conflicts in Republic of South-Africa at the time, which was what the press worldwide was mainly interested in. But his photos also depict the joys and concerns of simple people, their everyday lives and traditions, the relationship between man and land, the prevailing social norms and taboos, and paradoxical situations. For us the main point in most photos was about chaos and racism. But, “When they write the real story of South Africa, they’ll need the pictures of Juhan Kuus to illustrate it” (C. Marais)

After guided tour in exhibit we divided into two groups. Each group had its own theme – “conflict” and “social-problems”. The meaning of this was to show the oppression that people faced there. The difficulties of the workshop were the set-up of the people: we had to stage a scene depicting the conflict and took pictures of it, to describe it visually. It was ‘difficult to capture the exact moment and movement to tell “conflict” story visually. We displayed our “results” in a big screen and we had a discussion about being “subject” of the conflict or photographer capturing the “conflict”. Overall, the experience itself gave us wider aspect of their problems, also the life and understandment of it.

Week before, on November 7th, we visited the KUMU Museum documentary club, where we watched a film, which is called “Fatherland”. KUMU is an art museum in Tallinn, one of the largest museums in Estonia. “Fatherland” (2015 SA) is a coming-of-age documentary set in the remote South African bush. It follows a group of Afrikaner boys over nine days at a military-style camp whose practices are in the spirit of their fathers before them. However, what starts out as basic training, fitness and camaraderie soon intensifies, as the true nature of the camp is revealed and the boys are forced to question their place in the “New South Africa”. In this documentary film we saw how white nationalist guys passed a military training to defence of their families and property from the attacks and robbery of black skinned South Africans.
For us, the film tells about problems which are really important in nowadays life. Members of the World Apartheid Movement teach members of the public the out of self-defence on an offensive tactics of urban survival at a shooting range. It was interesting to see how white people prepared to fight blackskinnes because today in democratic countries it is really rare. We could see a contemporary situation and permanent conflict in the movie. For us it was pretty useful and informative about situation which is there. Some of us really liked the film, but some found it to be too much military or racist.

In our next lectures we will go on not only to discuss about “conflict” but also how to express it visually in practice, you will see it!

PreIB students Karolin, Radhika, Polina, Zoya, Sofia, Nicolas, Boleslav, Henri, Kristjan
and Kadri Viires

Used materials: catalog of the exhibition “Juhan Kuus The Measure of Humanity” Eesti Kunstimuuseum, Tallinn 2016