Gideon Mendel

Artist Name:Gideon Mendel
Nationality:South African
Year of birth: 1959
Artist information:

Gideon Mendel is a world-renowned photographer, artist and activist. His forty years of socially engaged photographic practice amount to a profound act of witnessing. His partisan projects are made with the intention to be of use, to both record the world we live in, and also to change it.

With compassion and visual ingenuity he has captured the human experience behind some of the most significant issues facing his generation; from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to the tragedy and hope of HIV/AIDS through to our global climate emergency.

For the last fifteen years, capturing the human experience and physical impacts of the climate emergency has been his focus, with the acclaimed Drowning World and Burning World projects weaving complex narrative threads to depict it. Showing catastrophic floods and the aftermath of wildfires Mendel takes us into the lives of the affected individuals as they navigate the devastation in their wake, and comprehend a profoundly altered landscape.

Tracking his creative journey we see that he began his career as a traditional documentary photographer, but driven by the imperatives of the subjects he confronts his work has consistently evolved. The transition from black and white to colour, along with the incorporation of conceptual and collaborative elements were all informed by his consistent endeavor to make images that work as visual activism.

He has never been content to stay wedded to one photographic genre; throughout his career he has been pushing at the limits of photographic practice, challenging himself and his audience to breach boundaries and expectations.

In Mendel’s later practice, his engagement with climate issues, portraiture has become his central narrative device. Engaging with his subjects in flooded or burnt landscapes they are not disempowered victims in the photographic encounter. His camera records their dignity and resilience, despite the personal catastrophe that they face. Their direct and sometimes unsettling gaze is a challenge to the viewer, questioning our communal culpability for their plight.

“Mendel approaches his subjects with an underlying assumption of their essential democratic equality; and in what must be the most heart-breaking of moments, they respond in kind by announcing their pride and defiance” (Dr Conohar Scott).

His climate change portraits are complimented by works that mine the surrounding details: the flood lines, the floating detritus and the scorched objects that are dislodged from their origin stories – damaged, warped and melted, then isolated and reconstituted, again through Mendel’s photographic attention.

In recent years he has increasingly taken on the role of an archivist, building collections of objects, from refugee detritus and flood-damaged snapshots through to objects marked by wildfires. These are forensically photographed as if they are significant archaeological items. He has also innovatively reengaged with his own archive of negatives and prints from his early years as a ‘struggle photographer’ South Africa. Mirroring his practice as a whole, the material objects of his photographic journey are constantly reconsidered and transformed.

- Extract from Gideon Mendel: 40 Years 40 Photographs

Gideon Mendel
Breaking the Silence
CCAC# 0411

Gideon Mendel
Guardians at the Fires
CCAC# 0412

Gideon Mendel
CCAC# 0413

Gideon Mendel
Thendeka Mantshi
CCAC# 0414

Gideon Mendel
Pumla Dladla
CCAC# 0415

Gideon Mendel
Six orphans from the Muroemba family
CCAC# 0416

Gideon Mendel
Linda Nota
CCAC# 0417

Gideon Mendel
Treatment Action Campaign office
CCAC# 0418

Gideon Mendel
Chikankata Hospital Homecare Vehicle Passes Through Village, Zambia
CCAC# 0431

Gideon Mendel
The Orphans of Rambo Village
CCAC# 0432

Gideon Mendel
Dorika Gabriel carries her 30-year-old son, Joseph, to sit in the shade. Joseph was suffering from AIDS.
CCAC# 0433

Gideon Mendel
Hlabisa District in South Africa Where 31.6% of Pregnant Women Test HIV Positive
CCAC# 0434

Gideon Mendel
Siyaphila La (99 Faces)
CCAC# 0469

Gideon Mendel
Thobani Ncapayi, 31. On treatment.
CCAC# 0471

Gideon Mendel
Dorika Gabriel carries her 30-year-old son, Joseph, to sit in the shade. Joseph was suffering from AIDS.
CCAC# 0487