Publisher: GOST, London
Dimensions: 165 x 210 mm
Thirty years ago, photographer Gideon Mendel left a box of negatives and transparencies in storage in a friend’s garage in Johannesburg. At some point the box was rained upon and the top layers damaged. The affected photographs were from Mendel’s documentation of the final years of apartheid when he had witnessed the nationwide township uprising and scenes of mobilization, conflict and tragedy. This act of happenstance led to Mendel revisiting and re-engaging with his archives, and the gradual creation of this book Freedom or Death.
Freedom or Death is divided into three sections, each with a different intervention to the original images from Mendel’s time as a ‘struggle’ photographer in South Africa.
The first section ‘Damage,’ as described above—the accidental, colorful and painterly transformation of the negatives and transparencies by mold and moisture.
The second section, ‘The Stone, the Gun and the Plate,’ is a collaboration with Marcelo Brodsky, an Argentinian artist known for his human rights activism. Brodsky writes and draws on photographs as a means of enhancing the historical narratives of images. For this collaboration, they conceived four triptychs, each focused on an object that repeatedly appeared in Mendel’s black and white photographs from 1985 and 1986.
The final section of the book ‘Merged’ is derived from vintage working press prints from the same period. Several of the photographs were made for newswire transmission with caption information pasted onto the front of the prints, some have a variety of crop marks on their reverse sides, and others have Mendel’s hand-written captions or agency copyright labels, along with detailed information about the photographs from his time with Magnum Photos and Network agency.