Dale Yudelman

Dale Yudelman has been photographing from a young age. In 1979 he began his career in photojournalism, working for The Star Newspaper. He has an interest in digital technology and created  ‘Life under Democracy’ from his iPhone that saw him win The Ernest Cole Award, one of South Africa’s most recognised photography awards.   View his work here.

 

Febby:

How long did it take you to create and gather all your images for ‘Life under Democracy’?

Dale:

I saw a friend’s images on Facebook, just using his iPhone. This must have been in 2011, or 2010. So I thought it looked kind of cool and in December of the same year I came back to South Africa and got myself a phone and started shooting with it, I was having quite a lot of fun. Most photographers, who have been shooting for a long time will kind of say the same thing, it frees you and it was just fun and different.

I was also shooting in a square format with an app called ‘Hipstamatic’. So I just started shooting little bits, mostly around Hout Bay. I went to the Ernest Cole exhibition, a retrospective of his work and at this exhibition, they launched the Ernest Cole Award, which was initiated by David Goldblatt and they said this is open award to any South African Photographer. The idea was that you submit the beginning of the project, and I submitted around twenty or thirty photographs. If you get chosen, obviously you win this award money and then you continue with the project. I had two or three months so I went and started shooting and submitted my proposal. For some reason they chose me, I was happy but surprised. After I won, I photographed for the rest of that year, I shot from July through to December. That was mainly Cape Town, I also went to Johannesburg and spent a lot of time downtown and looked at specific places that I had been thinking about. Then I had to separate about twenty-eight thousand photographs, taken over that time.

Febby:

As you were taking these photographs, were you thinking the whole time about documenting an update of the South African socio-political state? With every photograph telling its own type of story maybe.

Dale:

It was about the social and political that I was mainly thinking about. But I wanted to re-visit some of the places I photographed in the ‘80s when I was still working for the Star during apartheid. I went to the exact same locations, found similar things twenty, or thirty years later. It was a bit of a journey to uncover, also tackling some of the issues that still bothered me, but on the positive side, things have changed.

Febby:

Could you tell me about the things that have changed and the things you discovered?

Dale:

The thing about South Africa is it’s never as you imagine it, there’s always some underlining side to things. When covering the protests, it kind of took me back to the ‘80s and how things have and haven’t changed. For example, the law and who runs the police force, you can see in the recent histories those problems are still here. The beginning of the book was about freedom of speech. I tackled a lot of different areas, like the freedom of speech march in Cape Town. I also have images that are about the freedom of the press. You would not have really been allowed to say what you wanted in the papers so that all opened up in the twenty years of democracy, but it keeps getting challenged all the time.

So during the project, there were things at the back of my mind that I wanted to look at. I had done a project on refugees before called ‘I Am’ that looked at people looking for work.

Febby:

That’s a great series about the refugees and their struggle in looking for jobs. Through those images, you were able to get a feel for all the individuals and their desperation. These are very representative of a lot of people around South Africa, not just Johannesburg.

Dale:

Yes, that all really started after seeing one note in the convenient store and once I noticed one, suddenly I became aware of them and I started photographing them.

I like to photograph things that people take for granted. Sometimes people are quick to forget history, like some of the younger generation. They’re not that interested in what happened, and for me, the small detail still needs to be remembered. For example, I once -photographed a park bench with two women sitting on it and this was in the middle of Pretoria. That same bench thirty years ago, a black person would not have been allowed to sit there, it said ‘Only Whites’. So it’s reflecting on these small things, subtle ideas just to remember.   

Febby:

It’s great that you got the Ernest Cole award, it’s nice that the judges were able to see what you were doing with your photographs.

Dale:

I like to experiment and to not be so stuck in my old ways, so I shot on my phone. Because it was for the Ernest Cole award, I thought they were going to choose a photographer that sort of emulates that style with the in black and white. But I was happily surprised that they looked more at the content and not so much the so-called ‘style’. It was a really good thing for me and for a lot of other photographers. You can’t really second guess what people want to see and I never do, even when it comes to my exhibitions. The style is a difficult thing, especially now with digital and there are a lot of good photographers out there.

Febby:

Going back to the idea of taking photographs on your iPhone. In an interview online you said that using your phone and the app ‘Hipstamatic’ helped you go back to the basics of photography. What did you mean by that?

Dale:

Well, it doesn’t really matter what instrument you’re using, whether its high end with hundred million pixels, you know it all works the same way. It’s a lens, it’s the technical side. The basics are the engagements, some of the time and not all of the time. It can be about connecting with people, playing with composition and letting the photograph tell the story—I think that’s important. But it’s all subjective, you can look at a photograph and even with a caption it can be difficult, but it doesn’t always have to be factual. Also where you choose to show the photograph—is it in an exhibition or a book, is it online. So that kind of determines how photographs are perceived. But generally, I think photographs speak their own language. I prefer to let the picture speak and nothing wrong with a bit of text to help them along the way.