30 September 2013 by Denise Slabbert

#MeetSouthAfrica: Cedric Nunn

Art photographer Cedric Nunn finds inspiration in the beautiful landscape of his ancestors in KwaZulu-Natal.

The cover photograph of Cedric Nunn's book, Call and Response

Cedric Nunn is a gentle soul, soft-spoken, deliberate and with an eye for great beauty ... and all its opposites. He has photographed life in southern Africa in all its complexities from the civil war in Mozambique to the harsh conditions of those living in the mine dormitories of Johannesburg. His work is inspired by social change and justice.

Says Nunn, 'I don't really see my photography as storytelling but rather as indicators or symbols that refer to a certain "state of being", by which I mean they reference a larger body of which the image is part.'

Durban 1987: Women from out of town who sleep on the streets in order to market vegetables in the city go through their waking routine

As a documentary photographer for the AfriPix agency in the 1980s, Nunn and his camera were first-hand witness to a turbulent period in South Africa's history. For him, photography has been his way to make some kind of a difference: 'The medium [of photography] has allowed me to experience and engage with the world in more ways than I ever anticipated it would. Above all, photography, through its ability to facilitate introspection, has allowed for personal growth in my life, which has been an unsought but welcome outcome.'

His images are moving, layered and speak without words – from the image of his niece crying at the grave of her father in her wedding dress, to the farm worker and his family in Ixopo, to children surfing the waves in Arniston, every image tells a story. His 30-year journey of images is well documented in his book, Call and Response (Fourthwall Books).

Nunn has a fascinating ancestry and is a direct descendent of John Dunn, the legendary frontiersman who was welcomed into the Zulu Royal House by Zulu King Cetshwayo in the early 1880s. 

Nunn has a fascinating ancestry and is a direct descendent of John Dunn, the legendary frontiersman who was welcomed into the Zulu Royal House by Zulu King Cetshwayo in the early 1880s.

He settled with his family in Zululand, creating the Dunn family homestead in Mangete, near the Ngoye Forest, and was a 'transfrontiersman' in the true meaning of the word.

Nunn says his rich family history has shaped him in many ways – he researched and referenced his family in a photo exhibition and video documentary titled Blood Relatives. He is currently making a film about the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa's arts and crafts centre in Rorke's Drift in the famous battlefields area. 'This facility, which is arguably the oldest arts and crafts centre in the country, has undergone many challenges since its inception in 1962,' he says. 'The documentary attempts to look at the mission of development through the prism of this arts and crafts sector, in the hope of bringing the multifaceted nature of the challenges facing development projects into focus.  

(The #MeetSouthAfrica video on Cedric Nunn below was filmed during the winter months in KwaZulu-Natal on location for the filming of this documentary.)

Nunn is a busy man, always seeking out projects that explore the layers of life in South Africa, both past and present. He is currently halfway through photographing a book and exhibition titled The One Hundred Year War, about clashes between the Xhosa and the British colonialists and settlers in the Eastern Cape between 1779 and 1879, as well as documenting the history of the town of Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal.

For Nunn, the beautiful landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal are an inspiration, and while he isn't a historian, he has a fascination with the landscapes, the heritage and the people of this province. As a photographer, South Africa continues to delight his creative soul: 'I'm continually blown away by the landscape. It's an incredibly beautiful country. I love to be in the landscape and I am interested in how history shapes who we are.'

1989: Children from Arniston surfing off the Western Cape Coast. Copyright: All images by Cedric Nunn

Category: Arts & Entertainment


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