For the photo project Welkom Today, photographers Ad van Denderen and Lebohang Tlali and team travelled back to Welkom. For six weeks, they set up an exhibition with earlier photos of the town by Ad and lead several photography workshops for students to inspire them to express themselves visually. The trip brought to life a historical and contemporary view on Welkom.
Start of the project
In 1992 photographer Ad van Denderen published his first photobook: Welkom in Suid-Afrika – a visual document about the nearing end of the racial segregation of apartheid. The subject brought Ad van Denderen and journalist Margalith Kleijwegt to the miners town of Welkom, where the tension between the white and black community often led to violence. Van Denderen and Kleijwegt were not planning on going back to Welkom ever again until they received a surprising request in 2016 by Lebohang Tlali.
Lebohang Tlali, born in the nearby township Thabong, had discovered Ad’s photobook. It changed his life: the book made him aware of the history of his hometown and showed him how the medium of photography could create awareness. Together with Ad, Lebo proposed, he could bring back the photos to modern Welkom and organize an education program about photography to bring life into the town. Ad, feeling honoured, said yes. At the moment, they are carrying out a new project that can be seen as a follow-up on his first photobook: Welkom Today. An education programme spread over the years which will lead to multi-vocal exhibition in 2019, 25 years after apartheid. The past six weeks, the Welkom Today team visited Welkom again. Ad and Lebo held the very first workshops in Welkom Ad’s earlier work was exhibited.
Pop-up exhibition on the streets of Welkom
But where do you show your work when there are no museums? After considering several options, the Welkom Today team managed to put the photos onto a big digital screen in front of the casino in Welkom – one of the busiest places in town. Lots of residents passed by and recognized places and some people from the community. A day later, the rest of the photos were put up on a wall outside, under the watch of some curious citizens. Old photos of Welkom, finally on show after 27 years: a milestone in the project.
Educational program: who am I in 2017?
Along with the exhibition, photography workshops were held at three different secondary schools in Welkom: Teto High, Goudveld and Hoher Gimnasium. Lebo wanted to tell the teenagers an important message to the teenagers: art can change your perspective on reality and expands your horizon when you are in a hopeless situation. A message Lebo himself learned years ago, and that led him to study at the arts academy in Cape Town.
‘Everybody thinks Welkom is a shithole, I want to proof that it isn’t via photography.’
Despite several riots, Lebo and Ad managed to give the workshops to the enthusiastic students. Their assignment: to take photographs based on the theme Who am I in 2017? The students got a glimpse into the basics of photography (shadows, composition and lining) and were motivated to crystallise their personal stories visually. The team heard some amazing stories and saw a great variety of images within the theme. What stood out was the talent, but also the bravery in topics and daring vulnerability to show themselves. As one of the students told Ad: ‘Everybody thinks Welkom is a shithole, I want to proof that it isn’t via photography.’
Closing Party and exhibition
All photos of the three schools were sorted out, edited and printed for the final Closing Party and the opening of the exhibition. It led to a remarkable moment in the history of Welkom: for the very first time in history the principals from the schools sat together and talked, and participated in a project together. Students, family and friends and the Ambassador of the Netherlands in South Africa Marisa Gerards joined the opening. The exhibition shows faith in the future of South Africa. ‘This is the new generation, open and interested in the world around them,’ Van Denderen explained to the local newspaper Vista.
Welkom Today continues
In 2018 The Welkom Today team will travel back to make new photographs in Welkom and Thabong. Never published images from the period during and before apartheid will form an impressive photo document of the miners town. In 2019 – 25 years after apartheid, the work of both photographers will be exhibit in The Netherlands and South Africa, together with the photos of the students. In that period Dutch students will follow workshops based on the material from South Africa.