The Photography Legacy Project raises funds through first of its kind auction in South Africa

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Local photographers have joined together with their pan-African counterparts to participate in the first ever African Photography auction on the continent. The auction, initiated by the Photography Legacy Project (PLP), will be hosted by Aspire Art Auctions in Johannesburg on 5 November 2020.

Nipah Dennis, Winneba Beach, Ghana, 2019


A collection of pan-African works, spanning the terrain between historical and contemporary photography, will be on auction this November to support the digitisation of African photographic legacies by the PLP. While the PLP’s primary objective is to create an easily accessible and reliable archive for education and research, the organisation also aims to raise the profile of African photography globally.

“The under representation of African artists and photographers has contributed to a visceral representation gap of black artists within collections globally. To date, African artists represent less than 1% of the overall art market,” says Ruarc Peffers, MD of Aspire Art Auctions. “It is through efforts of organisations such as PLP that we are able to grow the value of artists from Africa to be more in-line with their American and European counterparts.”

One of the main attractions is a portfolio of 12 silver gelatin prints presented by the Ernest Cole Family Trust of Ernest Cole’s, once thought lost, archive. The portfolio, from his seminal 1967 book House of Bondage, is part of Cole’s recovered legacy.

Ernest Cole, Earnest boy squats on haunches to follow lesson in heat of packed classroom, Gauteng [Transvaal], South Africa, c.1965 (from The House of Bondage)

Ernest Cole, He is allowed to go his way – till next time, Gauteng [Transvaal], South Africa, c.1965. (from The House of Bondage)

Other photographic luminaries such as David Goldblatt, Alf Kumalo, photographers from Drum Magazine including Bob Gosani, G.R. Naidoo, Ranjith Kally and Ian Berry, as well as more contemporary internationally acclaimed photographers like Guy Tillim, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Jodi Bieber, Jo Ractliffe, Emmanuelle Andrianjafy, Syowia Kyambi and Mikhael Subotzky share their work with a diverse platform of creative talent.

Alf Kumalo, Hugh Masekela, 1956


Jodi Bieber, Sunday School, Nababeep, Northern Cape, 1999

Significantly, there is also a large group of contemporary emerging photographers from South Africa, several of them Market Photo Workshop graduates. The auction features photographers based in Sudan, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Namibia and Kenya, including work from Sudanese photographer Ala Kheir’s Revisiting Khartoum series, and recent images by Ghanaian photographer Nipah Dennis.

Ala Kheir, Me and My Oud, 2016

There is a compelling contribution of vernacular studio and street photography from the project, The Other Camera. Increasingly, this genre of vernacular photography – encapsulated by the iconic images of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé – is becoming rare and highly collectable. The once ever-present studio or street photographer, so prevalent throughout the continent, is a diminishing practice. The studio portrait that is deeply part of Africa’s photographic history, is being superseded by the quick fix mobile phone or selfie. The auction showcases some of these rare collections by photographers such as Ronald Ngilima and William Matlala.

Ronald Ngilima, Lovers, Wattville, Gauteng, c.1950s


William Matlala, Photo shoot, greater Johannesburg, Gauteng, [Two women] c.1990

Amongst the well-known and emerging, are photographers who have been plying their trade for decades. These include award-winning photographers and established names. The collection presented in this auction can also, much like the PLP’s vision, be seen as a vehicle to recover, celebrate and present hidden and buried work of photographers who have stepped up to share iconic as well as new images.

The PLP auction is both diverse and fluid in its content and form: it encompasses a number of aesthetic forms and approaches from traditional to modern; it reflects the inevitable resonances of a troubled history, yet mirrors those who wish to see the continent afresh and unburdened from the past. When poet and novelist Chinua Achebe was once asked about the notion of an African identity, he replied there wasn’t one, it was in the making. This auction is about African photography in the making. It provokes – as curator Okwui Enwezor has suggested of African photography – new readings and discoveries, somewhere between the past and present, as it embraces the future.

The ASPIRE X PLP African Photography Auction will open for online bidding on 21 October and will culminate in a live-virtual auction on 5 November in Johannesburg.

The fully illustrated catalogue can be viewed and downloaded at

An exhibition of selected lots will be on view from Monday 27 October to Thursday 5 November at Aspire’s gallery in Illovo. Viewings can be arranged by appointment.

*Proceeds of the fundraiser auction go towards the PLP and the participating photographers.

Background on PLP

The Photography Legacy Project (PLP) which has been in operation since 2019 has initiated an important visual heritage project to profile the significant contribution of major South African and African photographers. It does it in a climate where there is very little or no commitment on the part of African governments to the preservation of photographic heritage, either physically or digitally. Without sustainable commitment to the preservation of photographic heritage either physically or digitally, African photographic collections and archives remain perilously endangered. The PLP’s initiative is primarily to ensure that significant collections of African photography can remain on the continent and made widely accessible for education and research. It has begun with four South African photographers (David Goldblatt, Alf Kumalo, Ernest Cole and Ruth Motau) and has developed a portal of African archives and photographers. Please see

Johannesburg: +27 11 243 52 43 /


The Photography Legacy Project (PLP)
Nonhlanhla Kumalo: +27 82 296 2074 /