Spinning South Africa into Liberty

The Bo-Kaap native and Cape Town-based photographer, Yasser Booley, has revealed his humanistic outlook and sympathetic eye through his documentation and capturing of encounters with people, environments and events for just over two decades. He now presents his most prominent exhibition to date and the launch of his very first photography book of the same title, South Africa at Liberty (on display for the month of April 2017 at 6 Spin Street Restaurant in Cape Town). The exhibition and book serve as a cross-section of his 22 years in photography. The images included explore aspects of complex lived realities within South Africa.

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Images from South Africa at Liberty on display at 6 Spin Street
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Image of a bus passenger from South Africa at Liberty on display at 6 Spin Street
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Images of Cape Town street life from South Africa at Liberty on display at 6 Spin Street

South Africa at Liberty offers viewers the opportunity to peer into the past as seen through the lens of a man who sought to document his personal development and the world around him. The exhibition features a select 20 photographs taken from his very first photography book. Often following the narrative of those living on the margins of the city, Booley’s images exude a deep level of engagement and empathy. Ranging from his beginnings, rooted in capturing moments of excitement and anticipation of the ‘new’ South Africa, to documenting the lives of ordinary people. It was through documenting their social, cultural and religious engagements, that Booley is able to describe how differentiated society has become within cities themselves and cities across the country. The viewer is consistently confronted with the intimacy of the chosen subject matter.

Booley’s work often serves as a form of social commentary at large. He articulates the contrast between fleeting moments of ecstasy found in people’s expressions of culture and the sombre, harsh aspects of life in a country dealing with vast inequalities. Booley highlights the struggle of people dealing with divisive racial and classist tensions while seeking to rectify the wrongs of an oppressive history.

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Yasser Booley’s first photography book, South Africa at Liberty
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Image shown from inside Yasser Booley’s first photography book, South Africa at Liberty

South Africa at Liberty serves as the concluding installment in a series of photography books from sub-Saharan African photographers published by Africalia and Stichting Kunstboek in Belgium. The book features contributions by photographer Pieter Hugo, curator Ingrid Masondo and art historian Tambudzai La Verne Ndlovu.

Each of these features frame, analyse and offer insight into Booley’s life and work, often exploring the relevance of the selected images. Hugo observes the uniquely striking nature of Booley’s portraits as capable of forging a relationship between the viewer and subject such that the viewer is exposed to their conditions and emotions – evoking empathy. Ndlovu goes to the extent of framing Booley’s images and their place in society as a body of work which does not seek to undermine human suffering (however delicate and chillingly beautiful) but is rather a self-reflection on human resilience and transformation which,

‘exists as a proposition to disrupt myopic “Afro-pessimism”, intentionally eclipsing preconceptions of a bleak and hopeless South African reality where its citizens would have little to no agency’.

Tambudzai La Verne Ndlovu

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Booley insists on informing his photographic point of view as a response to a situation, he says his work records the way he looks at the world.

“I was born in this city, and I am familiar with its streets and its people. The work I have done with my camera stemmed from the belief I had, that everyone had something to teach, and the camera was the perfect passport that allowed me into people’s worlds.”

Yasser Booley

See his blog, watch his two-part interview with Design Indaba (Part 1, Part 2) or take a look at more of his images.

Images courtesy of Africalia/Yasser Booley and photographing of exhibition by Arron Moos.

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