The Independent Newspapers Cape Photographic Archive is a collection of about 850 000 news photographs offering viewers an encyclopaedic visual history of the 20th century, with a spotlight on the Western Cape. View the Independent Newspapers Cape Photographic Archive on the Digital Collections website.
Newspapers are strange and intense incubators of history and this vast archive is testament to that fact. It houses about 850 000 photographs that were featured in the pages of The Cape Times and The Cape Argus newspapers over the past century.
These photographs span a period from the early 1870s to 2000, capturing the social history of Cape Town and the Western Cape region. They were produced by in-house photographers, freelancers and wire services, and supplied to these Cape Town daily newspapers by ordinary citizens, government information services and others, to be used as a daily record and resource by the picture editors.
Almost 6 000 images have been digitised as part of the Humanitec project. They depict all aspects of life in the late-19th and 20th centuries, from changing social conditions in and around the Mother City, to the turbulence of political life (including protests during the pre- and post-apartheid eras) to leading public figures, from artists, to politicians, to sports stars in action.
At one level, it is a pictorial history that illustrates, amplifies and enriches our understanding of the City of Cape Town’s development, and the lens through which the media presented the city to its residents. But it also records and reflects seminal events in South African and world history (notably the South African War (or Second Anglo-Boer War), which was the most photographically covered war by far up until that point in history, World War I and WWII), and media approaches to them, from the 1870s through to 2000.
‘It was only in the 1960s under the stewardship of Argus pictures editor Jim McLagan that photographic prints were systematically retained and a coherent permanent archive developed. Before that time, many prints were simply discarded after use.’
Both newspapers are published by Independent Newspapers, The Cape Times dating back to 1876 and The Argus, as it is affectionately called, having been founded in 1857.
According to Independent Newspapers’ managing editor, it was only in the 1960s under the stewardship of Argus pictures editor Jim McLagan that photographic prints were systematically retained and a coherent permanent archive developed. Before that time, many prints were simply discarded after use. For this reason, the highest concentration of prints in this archive spans the period from the 1960s onwards, but it includes images from every decade of the 20th century, diminishing in number the further back one goes.
At a certain point, we were alerted to the fact that the archive was endangered/vulnerable. It wasn’t in a secure place, material had been lost and there was even some talk about it possibly being dumped. That’s when UCT got involved, with a view to incorporating this remarkable collection of newspaper images into the vast photographic archive housed in Special Collections at the University.
The Independent Newspapers Cape Photographic Archive features five kinds of photographic material: images from international wire services ; landline images, usually from other newspapers within the same group nationally; vintage prints made at the time of the particular event, often from sources outside the newspaper itself; reprints made in-house by the newspapers; publicity photographs and advertising brochures.
‘Topics covered include celebrations (Guy Fawkes, New Year etc); Haile Selassie; fauna and flora; hostel living conditions – Cape Town and nationally; fashion; oceanography and marine biology; robbery; Afrikaner nationalism – construction and rationale for Taal monument; women pilots of the 1960s and 1970s, archaeological finds in Cape Town…’
The archive reflects the apartheid configuration of the domestic news industry during the second half of the 20th century, and also includes the picture archive of The Cape Herald, a ‘community newspaper’ in the Argus stable, which targeted a coloured readership.
It is a rich resource for scholars across just about every discipline, most notably History, Film and Media Studies, Sociology and African studies. Most of the digital images are accompanied by metadata that sheds light on the history of the image. Its scope and diversity of subject matter is vast. Hopefully, the digitisation of these photographs will excite further interest in the physical collection too. We’re engaged in several projects that aim to keep the larger photographic archive alive and in conversation with South African heritage and memory.
Topics covered include: celebrations (Guy Fawkes, New Year etc); Haile Selassie; fauna and flora; hostel living conditions – Cape Town and nationally; fashion; oceanography and marine biology; robbery; Afrikaner nationalism – construction and rationale for Taal monument; women pilots of the 1960s and 1970s; archaeological finds in Cape Town; SA and international aviation history; apartheid-era parliamentary politics; labour conditions on farms; Cape Town’s maritime history; British anti-terrorism propaganda in Aden; youth indoctrination under apartheid; Afghanistan during the Cold War; Africa’s colonial past; apartheid education; Transkei ‘independence’; forced removals; early housing in Nyanga; Fingo celebrations in Cape Town 1960s; the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) and the Kappie Kommando; refugees throughout Africa, environmental degradation.
The Independent Newspapers Cape Photographic Archive is a treasure not just for the University, but also for the city and the nation. Its extent, variety and depth are extraordinary.