Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel
Freedom or Death (Signed)

Photographs: Gideon Mendel

Text: Gideon Mendel

Publisher: GOST Books

176 pages

Pictures: 87

Year: 2019

Price: 40

Comments: Hardback clothbound, foil debossed, 16,5cm x 21cm, colored black and white photographs. Signed by Gildeon Mendel.

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.

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 Deathis 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.

If these images were initially meant to bolster memory, they now speak of the fragility and malleability of memory itself, reminders that a material trace of the past can be altered or even obliterated, just as the images of memory in the human mind can be entirely changed—whether purposefully or not—when subjected to the currents of time. Denis Hirson

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 stone, teargas, the wooden gun and the sjambok (a flexible rubber whip) were selected to reflect the conflict and repression of these particular years. Brodsky’s revisioning of these photographs with a childlike colour palette, coupled with the mutation into comic book stylization, acts as an unsettling counterpoint to the violent subject matter.

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. The front and reverse of the prints has been precisely digitally merged to combine image, word and marking, reflecting the original functionality of the photographs. This third, and deliberate alternation has exposed the process, craft and sense of urgency hidden on the reverse of the original photographs.

Grappling with and reworking images from the past renders them relevant and meaningful in the ‘now’ and allows them to re-enter the present discourse through new positionings and framings. Mendel’s work in this book poignantly ‘harps’ on the past by acknowledging continuities of the apartheid phenomenon in the present. His sensitive work into the archival material brings about possibilities of new perspectives and interpretations. Farieda Nazier


Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)

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Gideon Mendel,Freedom or Death (Signed)