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VOICES FROM THE LAND (article first published : 2007-02-21)

The power of the image was never more effective than in the early 30’s in America when it brought about positive change in society. The legendary Farmers’ Security Administration Photographic Exhibition, directed by renowned documentary photographer Stryker, on the conditions of farm workers during the Depression, made such an impact on American society that it succeeded in improving the plight of the farmers.

In 1952 Jurgen Schadeberg, along with investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo, produced a series of now historic images for Drum Magazine which focused on the brutal working conditions of the farm labourers in Bethal which forced the Apartheid government to investigate labour conditions on farms. In 1953 Jurgen also did a photo study on the tot system in the Cape wine farms which exposed again the unacceptable working conditions on farms.

In the same spirit of effecting positive change in the farming community Jurgen Schadeberg has produced a major photo essay which looks at the living and working conditions of the farmers and farm workers on South African farms today…from the mealie and potato farm to the vegetable and fruit farm to the poultry and cattle farm.

The exhibition and book Voices from the Land examines farm conditions nationwide, looking at the successful farms run by black and white farmers and also at those farms which, due to mismanagement, have failed, and why. It also looks at farms where labour conditions are still unacceptable and where farm workers are exploited and ill treated by the farmers.

Also documented is the daily life, work, education and recreation of the people and the families who live on farms. The exhibition also examines children’s issues, women’s issues, health issues, housing issues and human rights issues.

This photographic essay complements the research work commissioned by the funding organization Atlantic Philanthropies such as a study on farm schools by the Wits law Clinic and a study on farm evictions by the Rural Legal Trust.

While the images will bring an added dimension to the research it will also be used in a touring photographic exhibition to highlight the current situation on farms today. In order to respond positively to problems that might arise in this often volatile section of society it is important to have a record of the “good, the bad and the ugly” of farms today.

In making people aware of the realities of farm life today - both the positive and the negative - a greater understanding of the problems will help lead to positive solutions and a peaceful, harmonious and profitable farming community. The aim is that the project will unite and benefit everyone in the agricultural sector.

Voices from the Land runs at the Durban Art Gallery from February 18 to March 24.




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