By Edward Tsumele
Veteran Press photographer Tladi Khuele has seen many hair rising events as a press photographer with close to 40 years experience in the field, working for several South African publications. But there is that one picture that he took in 1983 in in the streets of Johannesburg that still haunts him till this day, almost 40 years since he captured the event.
“I do not know who those boys were and whether they are still alive. I also did not have an opportunity to take down their names. When I saw what was happening as I took there picture of the action, deep down I was wishing that the policeman. Instead of arresting those young boys that could have between 10 to 13 years, should have arrested me. I mean those boys did nothing criminal. They were selling bags to put food on the table. That was cruel of the apartheid police,” Khuele told me in an interview at Museum Africa this week. He was there to prepare for an exhibition, which is a retrospective take on his photographic career that saw him work for several publications such as the Rand Daily Mail, City Press, New Nation, and Pace Magazine during apartheid South Africa, before working for Sunday World in post apartheid South Africa before retiring in 2004.
A self taught photographer, the Alexandra born but Diepkloof bred, Khuele saved enough money from hustling, mainly hawking anything he could lay his hand on, while he was still in high school, to buy an Olympus camera when young boys of his age went for fashionable clothes.
“I realized at a young age that clothes had no value really, and instead invested in a camera. What happened is that I used to read a lot, especially magazines, and I came across an article about Peter Magubane, a former driver who taught himself to take pictures and became a legendary photographer. I wanted to be like him and therefore decided to buy a camera.”
As it were, Khuele started off by being a street photographer, graduating to taking social pictures, such as weddings, before he had a break in the media when he was hired by the Rand Daily Mail, a liberal newspaper strongly opposed to apartheid in 1980s.
“The man who gave me that break in the media was Dannie Coetzer who was the picture editor of the newspaper. He mentored me and I will always be grateful to him for that. It was during that time when I could go out into the streets of Johannesburg documenting people’s lives including protests against the apartheid system when I saw police arrest those young boys simply for selling bags to put food on the table. I also documented Johannesburg’s social ills, such as homelessness,” Khuele explained.
It is the documentation of the anti-apartheid protests and the social ills that have always been a feature of Johannesburg life during apartheid and post apartheid that are contained in the narrative of his solo exhibition entitled Changing Faces of Johannesburg, which will open at Museum Africa in Newtown on November 30, 2021, running until February 2022. The exhibition is sponsored by the City of Johannesburg as well as receiving support from Fuji, and this is his major solo exhibition in years.
“Of course, the picture that has haunted me, of the two boys in handcuffs, being arrested for legitimately earning a living in the streets of Johannesburg, forms part of the Changing Faces of Johannesburg exhibition. I worked on this exhibition for two years and when I thought everything was ready in 2020, Covid-19-hit and put a stop to the exhibition,” he said.
.The Changing Faces of Johannesburg, a solo photographic exhibition by Tladi Khuele opens at MuseumAfrica in Newtown on November 30, 2021.