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Lenses and Shutters as Witnesses
NLSA - CTPS Exhibition - Cape Town 2013
The National Library of South Africa (NLSA), Cape Town Campus, has a rich collection of historical photographic material of which the majority are images of Cape Town and the surrounding areas. These images provide a glimpse of the changes in the city over time since the beginnings of photography in South Africa.

On the 5th of November 2013, an exhibition 'Lenses and Shutters as Witnesses' was opened to the public in the gallery of the NLSA. This exhibition represented a small fraction of the photographic collections, and showcased the historical value of the collections to the public. As the oldest photographic society in South Africa, the Cape Town Photographic Society (CTPS), also have very unique photographic material and photographic apparatus, the exhibition took the form of a collaborative CTPS and NLSA project.

To make the exhibition relevant to central Cape Town, five areas in the city were selected for a 'then-and-now' view of Cape Town. The CTPS invited their members and school children to photograph these areas. These images were exhibited in Gallery and the Red Space of the NLSA. The CTPS further contributed old photographic equipment for the exhibition, as the NLSA does not collect these.

The NLSA contribution consisted of many rare photographs which were digitised, printed to A2 size and archivally framed by the NLSA Conservation Department. For example, two of the images selected to be digitised and printed were the earliest hand coloured print and the earliest known panorama of Cape Town. Hundreds of loose photographs were displayed in the exhibition cabinets, as well as the antique camera equipment on loan from the CTPS. Selected books on the history of photography, photography in South Africa, and the care and handling of old photographs were also displayed.

The exhibition was officially opened by Ashley Lillie, a heritage specialist who spoke about the historical importance of photographic collections, and encouraged the visitors to contribute more photographic material to the NLSA for safekeeping. Jill Sneesby, the president of the Photographic Society of South Africa, addressed the visitors on behalf of the society.

The exhibition attracted a number of sponsors. The Friends of the National Library of South Africa sponsored the printing paper; Pictureworks Stellenbosch sponsored Fuji disposal cameras and prints; Distell sponsored the beverages for the opening evening and the CTPS contributed towards the cost of the banners and the exhibition’s official opening.

There have been some interesting developments post closure of the exhibition. The National Library has been approached by two book publishers to include photographs from the exhibition in forthcoming publications. One of the books could contain as many as 300 photographs from the NLSA's collections. More news to follow on this exciting project.

The NLSA would like to thank all the sponsors for making the event a success.

Antenie Carstens, Reprographic and Digital Services
Melanie Geustyn, Special Collections Section



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