Artists make pictorial records of events, emotions, feelings. Some of us try to sketch the simple beauty of mundane, everyday things. But today, I read an article and saw a slide show of something that moved me beyond words. "When he was only in his 20s Ernest Cole, a black photographer who stood barely five feet tall, created one of the most harrowing pictorial records of what it was like to be black in apartheid South Africa. He went into exile in 1966, and the next year his work was published in the United States in a book, “House of Bondage,” but his photographs were banned in his homeland where he and his work have remained little known." Thus began a article in New York Times : Homecoming For Stark Record of Apartheid. The accompanying slide show of Mr. Cole's black and white photographs are so very powerful- they shock, anger and deeply distress the viewer. And as the author Celia W Dugger writes, 'Mr. Cole’s captions and photographs are imbued with wrenching emotions.' On checking his biography I discovered that he dedicated his life to record and show the world the injustices and exploitation of segregation. But he paid a heavy price for his work and died young, a homeless man and in exile.
If and when there is an American tour of Cole's photographs, I hope to be able to view it in person. Coincidentally, over at Katherine A Cartwright's blog, there is a lively debate going on the 'moral function of art.' She has been reviewing John Dewey's 1934 book "Art as Experience." She writes that 'it all began with a statement by John Dewey: the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.' I think Ernest Cole's photographs do all that and much more.