A peep behind the camera with veteran Alf Kumalo

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BY MATT MEDVED

Even as a child, Alf Kumalo employed tricks to get the pictures he wanted.

“I used to carry a water container on my head like women do, but with my camera inside,” said the renowned 77-year-old photographer.

“People thought I was clowning, but I was working. Most of my best pictures came when the subjects were unaware.”

Kumalo started out as a freelance journalist for Bantu World and later worked for Drum magazine.

Today he runs a photographic school in Diepkloof, Soweto, for underprivileged youths. But he is perhaps best known for his coverage of resistance during the apartheid era.

“We were arrested so many times,” said Kumalo.

“You just knew that if they caught you they would lock you up, harass you and destroy your film.

“But I always kept extra rolls of film in my pockets and would just expose the wrong rolls. It worked for me many times.”

Kumalo leaned on his crafty approach even when photographing some of the most famous anti-apartheid leaders.

When PACfounder Robert Sobukwe’s wife Zondeni was refusing to allow photographs to be taken of them because she was against the publicity, Kumalo and Sobukwe hatched a plan.

“He told me to just stand outside his house on Sunday morning before they left for church,” said Kumalo.

“When she spotted me, she started complaining and he was just laughing. Then she realised he was in on it. I went to church with them and even got pictures of them in church together.”

Kumalo said that although he had great respect for Nelson Mandela and other politicians that he had photographed, some of his favourite subjects had been athletes.

“Photographing Muhammad Ali and Pele were some of the best experiences,” said Kumalo, “just because they are artists, completely above everyone in their sport.

“Ali is bold in public but when you were closer to him, he was down to earth and very humble.”

Kumalo said that among the assorted awards and honours he has received for his work, two specific ones stand out – winning a car and a caravan in a competition run by South African Breweries and an award from the presidency.

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~ by Matt Medved on July 6, 2007.

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