Looking back at a moment in time

Brett Adkins

IT WAS while going through a whole lot of old negatives, when something suddenly struck Ian Difford.

With his photographic career having taken off in a totally different direction in Johannesburg, he barely recognised that the striking images of an apartheid era Port Elizabeth in the ’70s and early ’80s, were in fact his own work.

“I think I realised then that maybe this was something I needed to get out there – out of myself.

“A kind of catharsis. To work out whether this ability I had was something I had lost along the way and whether I could possibly find it again.”

While his TV commercial work today is in another realm to that of his student and teacher of photography days in PE, there are some parallels in the sense of the stills he produces.

“Back then it was a very important time for me – a kind of obsession with capturing a moment in time. The street moments. And I still do that to an extent in TV commercial work.”

It was after showing the old negatives to one of his Port Elizabeth mentors, Prof Robert Brooks – who told him he must definitely put the images on display for people to savour – that the exhibition became a reality.

The unpublished pictures have been seen before by students and others, so they are not exactly undiscovered.

But as a collective they make for a fascinating montage of life in the city in the years just preceding the ground-swell of civil unrest in the mid-’80s, which would see apartheid crumble.

“This is very much a sense of revisiting one’s past,” he said. His exhibition opens at the Ron Belling Gallery in Park Drive at 6pm today.

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