Archive: Issue No. 70, June 2003

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.

Chris Ledochowski

Chris Ledochowski Miya's Peace Garden 1991 Archival pigment inks on coated cotton paper 34 x 50.8 cm

Chris Ledochowski

Chris Ledochowski Street Mural, Lavender Hill 1996 Archival pigment inks on coated cotton paper 34 x 50.8 cm

Chris Ledochowski

Chris Ledochowski Studio Home, Ezinyoka 1992 Archival pigment inks on coated cotton paper 34 x 50.8 cm

Chris Ledochowski

Chris Ledochowski Crowded Lounge, Lavender Hill 1992 Archival pigment inks on coated cotton paper 34 x 50.8 cm

Chris Ledochowski
by Andrew Lamprecht (June, 2003)

To the north of Table Mountain lies a large span of wind-blown, sand-covered land known as the Cape Flats. The system of Apartheid forced thousands of households of "non-white" people to move to this, the most inhospitable of Cape Town's many living areas. Today it is home to over a million people, who make a life there. Chris Ledochowski, one of only a few South African artists invited to exhibit on the 2003 Venice Biennale, has made this landscape and the people who live in it the subject of his photographic work.

With a record of engagement in this world going back over two decades, Ledochowski gives dignity to artistic practices of the people of the Cape Flats through sensitive photographs that demonstrate the rich culture and varied artistic responses of residents to the world and life around them.


"A collection of remarkable work brought to us by a man of extraordinary spirit, courage, fragility, tenacity, complexity and eye. The photography is pervaded by a sense of fine discernment and passionate concern for the subject. There are no cheap shots here and no facile concessions to popular, political or artistic correctness."
David Goldblatt on Ledochowski's book, Cape Flats: Township Details.

"Chris Ledochowski has attempted for the past two years to give integrity to this tradition [of hand-tinted portraits]. Instead of placing dark colours on the black and white photos, he has used transparent paints so that the details in the prints may be highlighted."
Christelle Terreblanche, translated from her article 'Die vele gesigte van die kaapse vlakte' in Vrye Weekblad, January 31, 1991.


Chris Ledochowski is equally at home with black and white landscape photography, hand-tinted portraiture or rich colour images of interiors and exteriors of township life. Always focussing on the beauty and dignity of his subjects he nevertheless makes no effort to hide the scars that injustice and harm have caused.

The series of work that will show, with some differences, at both Michael Stevenson Contemporary in Cape Town and 'The Structure of Survival' in Venice from mid-June shows the Cape Flats not as a dry and dusty site of desolation but rather as a place where ordinary people use art and colour to enrich their environment. This self-made culture, born out of a resistance to state control and Apartheid is presented as a viable image of hope within a world of hardship; a reflection of rising to the challenges of a globalised world.


"In the townships, I focused my attention on capturing - through photography - the dignity with which people were surviving and challenging their oppressive living conditions. The energy and soul of this struggle drew inspiration from the growing climate of political defiance."

"A collective desire for change gave people purpose and direction. I found that even in the midst of this modern political struggle, people still drew primarily on their traditional cultures and religious convictions, using them as outlets for creative expression. This project attempts to capture expressions of that process."


'Cape Flats Details: Art and Life in the Townships of Cape Town', runs at the snazzy new Michael Stevenson Contemporary Gallery from June 19 - July 12. A book on his work will be published to coincide with this exhibition.

Another, similar, set of images, focussing mainly on squatter communities, will be shown on 'The Structure of Survival', curated by Carlos Basualdo, at the 50th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. In the words of the curator: the exhibition "explores a constellation of themes related to the effects of political, economic and social crises in the developing world. The show does not attempt to fully document this situation, but to explore the ways in which artists and architects have reacted and react to these sets of conditions. Notions of sustainability, self-organisation and the articulation of various forms of aesthetic agency as forms of resistance are recurrent in the show. It is the powerful image of one of the most shocking and imposing evidences of these conditions in the city, the overwhelming presence of the shantytowns. 'The Structure of Survival' traces their presence in the cultural imagination of the developing world, and introduce the shanty as the object of a number of recent anthropological, urban and socio-economic studies."


Ledochowski seems to epitomise the Renaissance motto "festina lente": to make haste slowly. Although he has shown in several solo and group shows, Ledochowski, by his own confession, shies away from the art world. In 1995 he exhibited a series of hand-coloured photographs at the Cape Gallery, following on from other exhibitions of such works. Since 1980 he had been using the technique of applying watercolour and oils to his black and white images, originally at the specific request of his subjects. Hand-tinted portraits were the photographs of choice in the tradition of photographic portraiture of his subjects, and by returning to this system of representation he provided a dignity to his subjects.

One of the more important shows before this was 'Ten Years After: A Return to Nthabalala Village', which showed at the Mayibuye Centre of the University of the Western Cape. In 1982 Ledochowski photographed the family of Petros Mulaudzi, a domestic worker for his parents, who returned to the small village of Nthabalala upon his retirement. In December 1992, on the eve of Democracy in the country, he returned to the village, to witness the toll that ten years of life under Apartheid and the difficult natural conditions that farming in the Venda area brought.

Sensitive pastoral images, beautifully composed and framed, sought not to hide the history of struggle and trauma that were embedded in them. The hard-working farmer had seen the death of his wife to leprosy, drought and economic difficulties. Black and white prints such as Petros Mulaudzi with his Cattle in the Kraal and Church Service Adjacent to Petros' Home used subtle compositional structure to suggest classic images of the pastoral and picturesque while forcing a reading located in the South African landscape of the time. Writing for Die Burger, Gavin du Plessis noted at the time that no lover of documentary photography could miss the exhibition.


Ledochowski was a member of the Afrapix Collective from the early 1980s, and worked as director and cameraperson for the audiovisual agency Afroscope, the film and video component of that organisation. He documented significant events of the Struggle during the 1980s, focussing in particular on the role of workers and trade union members in that endeavour. He contributed to the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development and worked with the South African Labour Development Unit at the University of cape Town.

"First thing, when I come back from Venice, is to return to the home of Petros Mulaudzi in Nthabalala village to do the third segment of the black and white project started over 20 years ago."

"Next I go back to Pondoland to complete my colour essay on the dope industry, documenting the role that's played by the two crops - mielies and dope - in the lives of these communities."


Born into a Polish immigrant family in Pretoria in 1956, Chris Ledochowski grew up outside Johannesburg. He attended boarding school in Swaziland and, after his compulsory military service, studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, specialising in photography. For over two decades he has tirelessly documented life and achievement in the townships of the Cape. Apart from ongoing rural projects in Venda and Pondoland, he continues to be invited to take part in national and international exhibitions. Chris Ledochowski works as a freelance photographer in Cape Town.

Select Solo Exhibitions:

'Hand-coloured Photos in Ceramic Frames: A Collaboration Between Photographer and Ceramicist', Cape Gallery, Cape Town, 1995
'Ten Years After: A Return to Nthabalala Village', Mayibuye Documentation Centre, University of the Western Cape, 1993
'Hand Coloured Portraits from the Cape Flats', The Photo Gallery at the Market, Johannesburg, 1986
'Atlantis: A Utopian Nightmare', Atlantis, Cape Town, 1986

Select Group Shows:

'Nelson Mandela Gateway Exhibition', Cape Town, 2002
'Every Child is My Child', Pretoria. Commissioned by the President's Office, 2001
'Nelson Mandela Museum Exhibition', Umtata, 2000
'L'Afrique par Elle - Meme', Maison Europiene de la Photographie, Paris, 1998
'Photosynthesis: Contemporary South African Photography', South African National Gallery, Cape Town, 1997
'Contemporary South African Art 1985 - 1995', South African National Gallery, Cape Town, 1997
'Robben Island Reunion', Mayibuye Centre, Cape Town, 1996
'Rotterdam Photo Exhibition', Netherlands, 1995
'Shifting Landscape', Rotterdam Photo International, Netherlands, 1994
'Shaking Hands', Weekly Mail Book Week, Cape Town, 1993
'Mzabalazo: History of the ANC', (Co-edited), Mayibuye Centre, Cape Town, 1992
'Vumani/Afrapix Childrens' Exhibition', South African National Gallery, Cape Town (Now in its Permanent Collection), 1990
'Taking Sides', Netherlands, 1989
'Images of South Africa: Eight S.A. Photographers', Shell gallery, Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, 1986
'The Cordoned Heart', 2nd Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in South Africa, Cape Town, 1984
'Afrapix/Staffrider Exhibition', Johannesburg, 1980/1

Select Reviews and Articles:

Gavin du Plessis, 'Mense in 'n harde landskap', Die Burger, September 15, 1993, p.4
Christelle Terreblanche, 'Die vele gesigte van die kaapse vlakte', Vrye Weekblad, January 31, 1991, pp. 12-16
'Portraits of the Cape Flats' Vula Magazine, July, 1986


Cape Flats: Township Details, published by South African History Online in conjunction with UNISA Press, forward by David Goldblatt, 2003

An invited artist at the 2003 Venice Biennale, Chris Ledochowski's work is represented in the collections of the University of the Western Cape, The South African National Gallery and the Mayibuye Centre.


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Wim Botha
(April 2003)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Angela Buckland
(March 2003)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)
Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Kim Lieberman
(May 2003)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Berni Searle (update)
(Jan 2003)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Diane Victor
(Feb 2003)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)