Ernest Cole
House of Bondage

Foam proudly presents an overview of the work of South African photographer Ernest Cole. The exhibition includes parts of his archive, which had long been considered lost. The overview was assembled in collaboration with the Ernest Cole Family Trust, which in 2017 secured control of Cole’s archive. Cole is celebrated for his tireless documentation of Black lives in South Africa under apartheid: a regime of institutionalised racial segregation that was in effect from 1948 to the early 1990s.

Press release | Amsterdam, January 2023

As one of the first Black freelance photographers, Cole offered with his work an unprecedented view from the inside. Born in a township, Cole experienced the strains of apartheid first-hand. By having himself reclassified from ‘black’ to ‘coloured’, he managed to access places where most South Africans were banned. He risked his life exposing the grim reality of racial segregation, by documenting miners inside the mines, police controls and the demolition of townships, among others.

Cole lived a nomadic life, exiled from his native South Africa for his photographic publication House of Bondage (1967). The chapters from this book form the narrative for this exhibition. The book openly denounced the apartheid regime and was promptly banned in South Africa. In risk of arrest, Cole had gone into exile in 1966. He would never return to South Africa again.

group of men with hats and suitcases

twee mannen met hoedje, man met koffer

woman holding gun photo button

boy looking out graded window

Living between Sweden and the United States, Cole continued to document Black lives in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. However, being Black and stateless proved debilitating there too, and a publication of his American work would never materialise. Towards the end of his life Cole became increasingly disillusioned and reportedly started living on the streets of New York. He died at age 49 from pancreatic cancer. Much of Cole’s work had been considered lost since.

Until the rediscovery of 60.000 negatives and contact sheets in the safety deposit boxes of a Swedish bank in 2017. Besides (colour) images from his time in America, the archive contains unpublished photographs and contact sheets from House of Bondage. The exhibition in Foam is the first large scale overview of Cole’s work to include parts of his retrieved archive.

House of bondage by Ernest Cole can be seen from 27 January – 14 June 2023 at Foam.

Open daily 10am - 6pm, Thurs/Fri 10am - 9pm.

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1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
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This exhibition was made in collaboration with the Ernest Cole Family Trust and Magnum Photos.

The exhibition opens in tandem with the launch of two volumes published by Aperture: the first republication of House of Bondage, the second presenting the US work for the first time in history.

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