'Looking good, clean and fresh': Visual representations of the self in the Van Kalker Studio, Cape Town 1939-1978
Frieslaar, Geraldine Leanne
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This mini-thesis attempts to analyse the way in which Van Kalker photographs enabled representations of the self and allowed sitters a means through which to assert themselves visually especially when considered against a backdrop fraught with the socio-economic and political tensions of apartheid. The Van Kalker Studio, started by the late J. G. Van Kalker in 1937 at 47 Victoria Street, Woodstock became one of the most popular photo studios in Cape Town. Despite the effects of apartheid legislation such as the Group Areas Act (1950), the studio retained its prominence as an institution in which to mark memorable occasions. I have selected these photographs because it has become pivotal to consider how these intimate, beautiful and complex photographs speak to questions of the personal and the familial within an unfolding history of the city of Cape Town. By considering the Van Kalker photographs not only as mere images but as material objects with historical traces that are enmeshed in highly emotive processes of production, usage, exchange, storage, and collection, it creates the possibility that meaning can be found in the way in which photographs are presented, and how they are appropriated and disseminated. Although the significance of photographs as material objects has been largely overlooked or fleetingly explored, I intend to address that loss of material understanding in the thesis by regarding the Van Kalker photographs both as images and material objects that co-exist together. In pushing the argument of the thesis further, I will argue that through the display of Van Kalker photographs as material objects in prominent positions in the domestic interior, it serves as poignant reminders of personal and familial relations. Through an exploration of the Van Kalker photographs and the way in which they were appropriated, this thesis aims to weave an ephemeral visual seam across time and space, one that especially connects those that had theirphotographs taken at the Van Kalker studio despite their geographical dis/location.