David Krut Projects will be presenting a selection of Cedric Nunn’s work later this year in New York, and in preparation for the occasion, Alastair and I showed our support at the launch of Call and Response, published by Fourth Wall Books, launched in Cape Town at The Book Lounge on Tuesday 12 June. The book is a retrospective look at Nunn’s work over the last few decades and includes commentary by Nunn, Ralf Seipel and Okwui Enwezor. The evening featured a conversation between Nunn and Patricia Hayes, professor in the History Department of the University of the Western Cape and an expert in SA documentary photography.
The questions Hayes posed to Nunn spoke mainly to the personal in his work and exposed a fresh perspective on a photographer famous for images taken during the struggle period under Apartheid rule in South Africa and from the transition to democracy in the 1990s. The first chapter of the book deals with an on-going project entitled Blood Relatives that Nunn started as a young photographer. Although, as the title of the project suggests, the images are of Nunn’s extended family, Hayes pointed out that the photographs are significant beyond family portraiture. Nunn’s response engaged the idea that the personal and political, especially as a non-white South African of mixed race heritage growing up pre-democracy, form a constant feedback loop. Very often in Nunn’s family portraits, intuitive decisions around image-making double up as critical engagements. While Nunn, like most young photographers, had plans to document and pursue projects countrywide, a lack of resources to travel made this impossible. It was Omar Badsha, of a previous generation of photographers, who encouraged him to look to his own life for material. In this way, according to Nunn, a lack of resources transformed into a wealth of subject matter and material that he had access to as an insider. As a viewer of Nunn’s images, it is this quiet knowledge and personal nuance that makes his images so intriguing beyond their political importance.
Hayes also pointed out, in another question, that although the people that Nunn was photographing would have lacked a knowledge of art history or institutional education in the arts, a pictorial sensibility is very clear from the interiors of the spaces in the photographs. Nunn admits that, while institutional knowledge was indeed lacking, he relied on his family’s organic sense of the visual in the way others might have relied on an inherited love for music. He also pointed out that a lack of tertiary education is something he used to his advantage – his agency in the world in which he photographs he believes gives him the upper hand over any expert looking in on the same situations. In this way, Nunn combines the personal and political in his work, having no need to shy away from either one.
Omar Badsha, mentor and friend of Nunn, was also in attendance at the launch, and dialogue between the two photographers reveals a strong connection beyond the professional – another touching example of the personal within the political. Other colleagues of Nunn showing their support at the launch were George Hallet and Paul Weinberg, among others.