The Land of Cedric Nunn

by Candice Jansen

 W.T.J. Mitchell’s, Landscape and Power (1994) helped change the understanding of the word “landscape” from a noun to a verb. The anthology “asks that we think of landscape, not as an object to be seen or a text to be read, but as a process by which social and subjective identities are formed.” [1] If landscape then is a practice or a process, not just an image, how can we imagine the landscapes of South African photographer, Cedric Nunn (1957-)? “I am not a landscape photographer per se,” [2] he deflects in the post-script to his first photographic monograph, Unsettled: The 100 Years War of Resistance by Xhosa against Boer and British (2015). His book of photographic landscapes evokes a forgotten resistance history and maps critical sites of memory that he writes, are “about imagining, my imagining.” [3]

Nunn photographs both a distant past and an “attitude towards land.” [4] He may not consider himself a ‘landscape photographer’, but his activism has always been touched by land as a history, an identity, and a feeling that colours the lives of rural Black people. He came to photography during the early 1980s as the cultural movement against apartheid gained momentum after the 1982 Culture and Resistance Festival in Gaborone, hosted by the Medu Arts Ensemble. There documentary photography emerged as a collective practice of resistance, called for by late photographer, Peter McKenzie (1955-2017) in his address, “Bringing the Struggle into Focus.” [5] Taking sides became the ethos of Afrapix, the iconic anti-apartheid photography collective, who through the decade served as a critical intermediary between the mainstream and alternative press, between the visual needs of political and grassroots organisations around South Africa and in exile.

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