Archive: Issue No. 120, August 2007

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Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Cell 33, E Section
Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison 2005
digital print on cotton rag paper
56 x 151cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Marc, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison 2004
Digital print on cotton rag paper
56 x 82cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Pasvang, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison 2004
digital print on cotton rag paper
56 x 82cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Photograph from the Prison Photo Workshops
fibre print
50 x 60cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Marc, Hout Bay Beach 2005
digital print on cotton rag paper
56 x 151cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Hermanus, Icon Building Site 2005
digital print on cotton rag paper
56 x 151cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Tokkie, Manenberg 2005
digital print on cotton rag paper
56cm x 151cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Outside Toekomsrus, Beaufort West 2006
Lightjet C print
126 x 147cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Spinning Class Beaufort West 2007
Lightjet C print
126 x 147cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Fancy Dress Competition
Beaufort West Show 2007
Lightjet C print
126 x 147cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Joseph, Beaufort West Hospital 2006
Lightjet C print
126 x 147cm

Mikhael Subotzky

Mikhael Subotzky
Beaufort West Police Station 2006
Lightjet C print
126 x 147cm

by Sue Williamson (August, 2007)


Seemingly marked for stardom right from art school days when he was the only student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town ever to achieve 100% as a final year mark, Mikhael Subotzky was snapped up by Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery at his student show. By that time he had already established what has become his working method: to immerse himself into a situation that interests him, about which he wants to learn more, to spend time and engage at a one-to-one level with the people involved, and then to take photographs.

In that final year at Michaelis, Subotzky spent most of his working time over three months inside the walls of Pollsmoor Prison, a hopelessly overcrowded correctional facility largely controlled by gangs, talking to the prisoners and the warders, teaching classes in photography to the inmates, taking his own images. At that point Subotzky was working digitally, and a key feature of the Pollsmoor work was panoramic images in which he would stitch together a number of shots to give a 360 degree view of the jammed prison wards and spaces. The view given of the prison interiors was unique.

What was notable about the photos was not so much that they were taken within a prison, not in itself groundbreaking, but in the particular qualities Subotzky's images conveyed. The desperate sense of men beaten down and entirely caged within a harsh institutional environment came through, and yet there were moments which showed how the human spirit survives, even under the direst circumstances. The photographs were even more an indictment of the South African prison system than of those condemned to endure it.

The series was entitled Vier Hoeke - gang terminology for any prison space, not just Pollsmoor. Not only does the term refer literally to 'the four corners' of a prison cell, but also, and more importantly, to a space where different rules from the outside apply - gang rule, gang control and gang history and mythology.

The following year, Subotzky spent several more months at Pollsmoor, teaching classes in photography to prisoners, and on Freedom Day in April 2005, a one day exhibition was held for the first time within the walls of the prison, showing some of the Subotzky's work, but mainly the photographs shot by the prisoners in the workshops.

In a second series, Umjiegwana (2005) Subotzky investigated the lives and reintegration - or not - into society of released prisoners.


'The main thing for me in my work is trying to find a way to make sense of the world, so photography becomes a way of attempting to do that. I don't really achieve that understanding, but the fact that I am trying comforts me', says Subotzky.


In June this year, Subotzky learned that he had been nominated to join the world's most famous photo agency, Magnum, founded by the legendary Henri Cartier Bresson and artistic home for many of the world's top practitioners. To belong to this exclusive fellowship means that a photographer's work is showcased in the most prestigious journals and annuals, and the attention of collectors and curators interested in photography is guaranteed.

In the same month, the French city of Perpignan awarded Subotzky their Young Photographer Award, to be handed over at 'Visa Pour L'Image' at Perpignan in September. An exhibition and a handsome cash prize are part of the award.


Most of this year, Subotzky has been furthering his explorations into the marginalised of society, shifting his gaze onto the rather typical small South African town of Beaufort West, situated on the main road halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Atypically, the town jail is situated on a large traffic circle in the middle of town, in plain view, yet hardly noticed as the cars swing by on their way north. Subotzky's new series of work explores this milieu, both inside the jail itself, and all around the town; from a family living on the earnings of the daughter of the house, a prostitute, to the frantic excavations at the town's rubbish dump, as people scrabble for anything of value. By now, Subotzky is working only with medium format film, using only available light. His photos carry a charge, an intensity, that comes only with a genuine involvement with his subject.


At the end of last year, Subotzky was invited to participate in the 2006 Joop Swart Masterclass, organised by the World Press Photo organisation in Amsterdam. It was a time of intense and stimulating discussion for Subotzky.


In August 2007, Subotzky will show his Beaufort West series at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town. Two of the photos will also be shown at Flowers East Gallery in London, on a group show entitled 'says the junk in the yard'.


The following month, September 2007, Subotzky will be involved in no less than five international exhibitions, including a C Photo Magazine exhibition in New York which includes such participants as Andreas Gursky, Malick Sidibe, Seydou Keita, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. A residency at Civitella Ranieri, Italy is scheduled for 2008.


Born September 15, 1981 in Cape Town, South Africa. Based in Cape Town.



2007 'Beaufort West', Goodman Gallery Cape, Cape Town
2006 'Die Vier Hoeke and Umjiegwana', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
'Die Vier Hoeke', Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
2005 'Die Vier Hoeke' in the Nelson Mandela Cell at Pollsmoor Prison, ape Town


2007 'The Loaded Lens', Goodman Gallery Cape, Cape Town
'Lumo 07 - Us', 7th International Photography Triennale, Jyvaskyl
Art 38 Basel, Goodman Gallery
'Lift off II', Goodman Gallery Cape
'Contemporary Art Photography from South Africa: Reality Check´┐Ż, NBK, Berlin 'Risk', Exhibition of the 2006 Joop Swart Masterclass, FOAM, Amsterdam

2006 Art Basel, Miami Beach, Goodman Gallery
'The Living is Easy', Flowers East Gallery, London
Art 37 Basel, Goodman Gallery
'New Code', Studio La Citta, Verona
'Snap Judgements: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography' at the International Center for Photography, New York curated by Okwui Enwezor 'Personae & Scenarios - New African Photography', Brancolini Grimaldi Arte Contemporanea, Rome
'Olvida quien soy [Erase me from who I am]', Centro Atlantico de Art Moderno, Canary Islands
VIes Recontres Africaines de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali

2005 'The Pantagruel Syndrome', T1, Turin Triennial curated by Francesco Bonami and Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
Art 36 Basel, Goodman Gallery
Art Basel, Miami Beach, Goodman Gallery
'Click', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
'Vyf Kurators, Vyftien Kunstenaars [Five Curators, Fifteen Artists]' at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees


Winner of the 2007 City of Perpignan Young Photographer Award, Perpignan
Winner of the 2007 KLM Paul Huff Award, Amsterdam
Winner of the F25 Award for Concerned Photography, Fabrica, Italy, 2006
Winner of the Special Jurors' Prize at the VIes Recontres Africaines de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali, 2005
Merit Award winner at the 2005 ABSA L'Atelier Competition


Recipient of a Civitella Ranieri fellowship, Italy, 2007/2008
One-year residency at Fabrica, Treviso commenced in 2007
Participated in the 2006 Joop Swart Masterclass, World Press Photo, Amsterdam


The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Iziko South African National Gallery, Johannesburg Art Gallery


Sanell Aggenbach
(Sept 2005)

Alan Alborough
(July 2000)

Jane Alexander
(July 1999)

Siemon Allen
(June 2001)

Bridget Baker
(March 2006)

Emma Bedford
(March 2007)

Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)

Ralph Borland
(Jan 2006)

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)

Jean Brundrit
(March 2004)

Angela Buckland
(Mar 2003)

Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)

Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)

Julia Rosa Clark
(July 2005)

Peter Clarke
(Sept 2003)

Steven Cohen
(May 1998)

Keith Deitrich
(July 2004)

Paul Edmunds
(Feb 2004)

Leora Farber
(May 2002)

Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)

Bronwen Findlay
(Sept 2006)

Tracy Lindner Gander
(April 2004)

Kendell Geers
(June 2002)

Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)

David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)

Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)

Frances Goodman
(Aug 2006)

Dan Halter
(July 2007)

Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)

Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)

Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)

Matthew Hindley
(Sept 2004)

Nicholas Hlobo
(June 2006)

Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)

Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)

Pieter Hugo
(April 2006)

William Kentridge
(May 1999)

Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)

David Koloane
(July 2003)

Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)

Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)

Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)

Chris Ledochowski
(June 2003)

Kim Lieberman
(May 2003)

Mandla Mabila
(Aug 2001)

Churchill Madikida
(May 2004)

Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)

Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)

Thando Mama
(June 2004)

Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)

Colbert Mashile
(May 2006)

Brent Meistre
(May 2005)

Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)

Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)

Samson Mudzunga
(Oct 2004)

Zanele Muholi
(Dec 2006)

Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)

Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)

Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)

Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)

Sam Nhlengethwa
(Oct 2003)

Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)

Jay Pather
(Dec 2004)

Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)

Tracy Payne
(March 1998)

Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)

Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)

Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)

Colin Richards
(Aug 2003)

Tracey Rose
(March 2001)

Ruth Sacks
(Oct 2006)

Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)

Berni Searle
(May 2000)

Berni Searle
(Jan 2003)

Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)

Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)

Cecil Skotnes
(July 2006)

Kathryn Smith
(Dec 2003)

Dave Southwood
(March 2002)

Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)

Nathaniel Stern
(Feb 20006)

Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)

Guy Tillim
(Jan 2005)

Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)

Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)

Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)

Storm Janse van Rensburg
(June 2005)

Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)

Nontsikelelo 'Lolo' Veleko
(Feb 2007)

Andrew Verster
(May 2007)

Diane Victor
(Feb 2003)

Vuyile Voyiya
(Aug 2005)

Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)

James Webb
(Aug 2004)

Sue Williamson
(Nov 2003)

Ed Young
(Nov 2005)

Billie Zangewa
(June 2007)

Mlu Zondi
(Nov 2006)