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Bonile Bam, A Photographic Tribute

Top Billing interviews photographer Bonile Bam

Bonile Bam, A Photographic Tribute

When thinking about the life that Nelson Mandela has led it is hard to imagine that this man of such stature and wisdom began his life in rural Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape. Photographer, Bonile Bam, has created an exhibition which tells the story of Mandela's life before politics.

"The idea was to tell a South African story. To achieve this, I documented the spaces and structures that governed his childhood, focusing more on struggles, tradition, heritage, culture and memory."

Join us as Bonile Bam talks to us about his journey as a photographer and how a meeting with Madiba in 2003 was a turning point in his life on both a personal and professional level.

About Bonile Bam:

“In 2003, before I left Johannesburg  for New York, I was invited by The Nelson Mandela Foundation to photograph the former president and his guests.  At the end of  the event, I shook his soft right hand. On hearing the voice at close range, my heart pumped harder and harder.  Mandela, who is also known as Madiba, said “Good to see you young man, I’m glad you came.”  Smiling, he continued, “You must treat a camera like a key, it will unlock many doors for you.”

That was a turning point in my life.

Three months later, I received a call from the Market Photo Workshop, the school of photography  established in Johannesburg by documentary photographer, David Goldblatt.  I was told about the Getty Images Fellows Program in New York. Since it had been a dream to further my studies, I embraced the opportunity and applied.

Give thanks to that special handshake with Madiba – I was chosen to be the first Getty Images Fellow,  to study for a year at the ICP, and to work as an intern with the Getty Images news desk between terms.  While in NY, I took every opportunity presented before me – learning as much as I could  – with a vision to bring the skills to Africa.

Not so long back in my own country, I was faced with numerous challenges.  To escape them, I began a photo project tracing Nelson Mandela’s footsteps in Mthatha, Eastern Cape – not far from where I was born.  The idea was to tell a South African story.  To achieve this, I documented the spaces and structures that governed his childhood -  focusing more on struggles, tradition, heritage, culture, and memory.  This route inspired me – hence the problems were reduced each time I moved forward – I later reconnected with myself.   In 2008, The Star published an article I wrote as tribute to Madiba’s 90th birthday.

I freelanced for various institutions, publications, organizations and wrote part time for The Sunday Independent newspaper and  covered assignments in the townships, urban and rural areas.

Now, I am represented by Seippel Gallery, contribute to Gallo Images and to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
This year, Madiba’s grandson, Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, requested me to be an in- house photographer for the Mandela family in Mvezo Great Place (where Mandela’s umbilical cord was hidden in 1918).”

Bonile’s latest work can be seen  in the following Exhibits:
Iziko Art Collections, Cape Town , until September
Africa Salutes you Mandela – Mandela Foundation, 11 June – July
Apartheid, Struggle, Freedom – SA photography 1950 2010, Berlin, Ulm and Goch, Germany
Photo Workshop -  World Cup Rural and Urban Photo Diary Newtown, Joburg
AngloGold – World Cup Rural and Urban Photo Diary , Newtown, Joburg
Mandela Day – Pretoria Art Museum, opens July 18
Mandela Day – Maponya Mall, Soweto, opens July 18
Meaning of Home – Mandela Foundation, opens July 18

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