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Freedom or Death - Special Edition 10x8

Freedom or Death - Special Edition 10x8

by Gideon Mendel

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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.

More about this book

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, colourful and painterly transformation of the negatives and transparencies by mould 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 stylisation, 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 positioning 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

About special editions

Please note, Special Editions are not processed through our warehouse but individually condition checked and packaged by hand to avoid any damage. As a result, please allow extra time for your Special Edition to arrive. We will keep you updated on the progress of your order and we can be contacted on with any queries.

Published November 2019
165 x 210 mm, 176 pp
87 full colour images
Hardback clothbound, foil debossed
ISBN 978-1-910401-39-2

Handmade clothbound box, foil debossed
Each box comes with the original 10×8 inches vintage press print reproduced in the book (made in the 1980s and 1990s), with unique markings/captions, signed by the photographer.
GOST Books will contact you directly after your order to enquire which print you would like.

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  • Gideon Mendel was born in Johannesburg in 1959 and studied Psychology and African History at the University of Cape Town. He began photographing in the 1980s during the final years of apartheid and it was this work as a ‘struggle photographer’ during this period that first brought his work to global attention. In the early 1990s he moved to London, continuing to respond to global social issues, with a major focus on HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa but expanding worldwide during the last twenty years. Since 2007, Mendel has been working on 'Drowning World', his personal response to climate change. In 2015 he was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet Award (Disorder) for 'Drowning World'. In 2016 he was the first recipient of The Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s Pollock Prize for Creativity and was awarded the Greenpeace Photo Award (Jury Prize).