Fr(agile)

11.3.2012

History is still being uncovered, seeking to be found, and desires some dusting. It is fr(agile) wrinkled, shot but not dead. It stares at you, acetate, black and white, wanting to be found and desires dignity at least at the scale of being framed, un-framed, discussed, analyzed and open to those who wish to extract from it. The action of viewing history always remains a human necessity, it has a need to be heard and at least to be found. Its trappings remain the voice of history.

These are the remnants of the Alf Kumalo Archive. It is an archive filled with feelings, trapped emotions waiting to explode. It is a collection of work that has been a constant threat to the Apartheid state. Many a times it has been near destruction. It is an archive that is embedded with trauma, constantly harassed by the state's security agents. This is an archive of disposable people - people hated by the state. Seventeen years after apartheid, the security police remain alive in the corridors and rooms housing the collection. Their spirit and energy hover over these many boxes. They have succeeded in keeping his vast collection trapped, hidden and covered in dust and they remain endangered, near destruction. 

The images were too damning, he shot with precision, he shot them, he shot those disposable people the state dared to hate. He shot icons. His weapon is still active…He still shoots, but he too is an endangered species, a rare and valued collection in itself.

Walter Benjamin in his essay Excavation and Memory stated, “He [sic] who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. For the “matter itself” is no more than the strata which yield their long-sought secrets only to the most meticulous investigation. That is to say, they yield those images that, severed from all earlier associations, reside as treasures in the sober room of our later insights.” Benjamin’s reflections on the significance of photography and its resurgence into our memories and context as documents of evidence of a past and as a medium for collective memory remains key to the preservation of photographs. 

From the 9th-11 March 2012, the Center for Historical Reenactments in collaboration with the Alf Kumalo Museum spent three days in residency at the museum. CHR members spent the three days seeking out and searching through Alf Kumalo’s boxes. The room was filled with fragile contents, rolls of film, piles of paper, heaps of printed photographs, photographic equipment and other ephemera. 

For three days CHR sorted/searched/cleaned/learned/ate/slept/talked/listened/sorted boxes, bags, images, documents, equipment, people people and more people some known, most unknown or unrecognizable - many people, many black people in agony, in love, in protest, in sports, at funerals. We worked through the agility of Apartheid, its threat to photographers and their collection. Alf Kumalo was 82 years old, to date he had shot over 500 000 frames. His collection remains endangered.

Alf Kumalo died on the 21st of October, seven months after this project. This project was conceived in collaboration with the Alf Kumalo Museum and Jabu Pereira who co-authored this text.