Which black train to take is matter of guesswork. They have no destination signs and no announcement of arrivals is made. Head car may be numbered to show its route, but number is often wrong. In confusion, passengers sometimes jump across track, and some are killed by express trains.
South African documentary photographer Ernest Cole critically subverts the operations of the archive. Cole has the ability to officially change his racial status from black to colored, due to ambiguities in the government’s methods of documenting and systematizing racial identification, in order to gain access to broader strata of society for his photographic project. Cole’s black-and-white photographs depict passbook arrests, police inspections, dehumanizing conditions in the diamond mines, “white only” signage in the city—images that would have been subject to censoring.
Cole, when stopped and questioned by authorities, masqueraded his photographs as documents of youth crime rather than as records of the violence of institutional apartheid policy. In this way, Cole’s negatives passed archivally. Presenting his work in the guise of documentary visual policing, Cole was able to leave South Africa with his negatives and go to the United States, where House of Bondage was published. This operation of critical camouflaging, of archival mimicry as a critical practice in the realm of photographic production, will fuel this examination of the ways in which the body is represented archivally in contemporary photography from South Africa.
From Ernest Cole’s book, House of Bondage.