Ernest Cole, A Lens in Exile
Ernest Cole: A Lens in Exile
Jun 13 – Oct 12, 2024
Autograph
London, UK

Offering a rare and reflective insight into the seminal South African photographer Ernest Cole, A Lens in Exile is the first exhibition of his photographs documenting New York City during the height of the civil rights movement in America. Best known for his radical images documenting the violence of apartheid, Cole fled South Africa in 1966 and was officially made stateless in 1968.In a televised interview in 1969 he expressed a hope of being liberated from the day-to-day experience of racism. Focused on the humanity of everyday life, Cole spent his first years in New York City photographing Harlem and Manhattan, focusing his lens on the experience of living in a racialised America.

Framed against the struggle for civil rights, Cole captured moments of emergent black awakenings, unfolding within public and private spaces by the forces of Black Pride and Black Power. These remarkably intuitive photographs – documenting protest, politics and daily existence – were forged through a transgressive challenge to the status quo of American society.

Despite Cole’s observant eye confronting America in transition, these social documentary images revealed a chasm. Disillusioned and isolated in exile, he began to reflect that the systemic exclusion and segregation he experienced in South Africa was also prevalent in America. In his own words “it wasn’t any better: there was no freedom”.

The photographs displayed here were taken between 1967–1972, representing a small chapter of Cole’s 40,000 images taken while in exile. In 2017, thousands of his negatives believed to have been missing for more than 40 years were discovered in a Stockholm bank vault. The Ernest Cole Family Trust was subsequently established to ensure Cole’s important photographic legacy is preserved.

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