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Black-and-white portraits from apartheid-era South Africa

South Africa’s apartheid era -- when segregation was legal and the white minority ruled -- is remembered as a time of rampant violence and divisiveness. But a photo exhibit this summer showcases the private lives that some South Africans carved out amid this environment.

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    These photographs by S.J. “Kitty” Moodley are part of an exhibit called “Who I Am: Rediscovered Portraits from Apartheid South Africa,” now at the Walther Collection project space in New York City.

    In 1957, after being fired from a shoe factory, Moodley opened a studio in a working class area and served mostly “non-whites” like himself.

    In line with his political views — that’s Moodley at a rally — his studio in the 70s and 80s became a safe space for anti-apartheid activists.


    It reminds me very much of African-American barbershops.


    Columbia University professor steven dubin curated the exhibit and spoke to “newshour weekend” by skype from south africa.


    People can come, they can get news, they can share news, they can talk about ideas. You know, Kitty’s studio, you know, served the same function.


    While photojournalists often documented the protests and violence of the time, these photos tell a different story.


    Even under the the most restricted conditions people were able to fashion lives for themselves and perhaps they were able to imagine lives for themselves that did not exist before that.


    The 38 photos on display are often playful. A lady wearing a lampshade on her head. Three men dancing. Moodley also captured the bending of social norms.

    Here a woman wears traditional Zulu female attire, and then she’s seen in pants typically worn by Zulu men. According to Dubin, dressing like that would have been considered daring. But Moodley’s studio allowed for self-expression during a turbulent time.

    He died in 1987 — seven years before apartheid collapsed. These photos will be on display until September third.

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