South Africa’s First Post-Apartheid Generation Comes of Age with @krisannejohnson
To see more of Krisanne’s documentary photography from South Africa and Swaziland, follow @krisannejohnson on Instagram.
Photographer Krisanne Johnson (@krisannejohnson) gravitates toward stories about youth culture. Her most recent black-and-white images from the streets of South Africa continue her eight-year-long commitment to documenting the country’s first generation to be born free of racial segregation.
“I think young adults express an energy and rawness that can truly reflect the climate of a country,” she says. “I wanted to document the first post-apartheid generation to come of age and their experience of growing up in a democracy that is complex and young.”
The New York-based former White House staff photographer’s connection to South Africa dates back to 1998 when she spent a transformative year there studying photojournalism at Rhodes University and interning at the Cape Times. “It was almost less about photography and more about the late night discussions, the stories, the observations — to see a changing post-apartheid generation take shape,” says Krisanne.
Over the subsequent years, Krisanne visited South Africa to see friends, but it wasn’t until after graduate school that she felt the pull and the commitment to return and begin her long-term work. In 2006, she started a project in neighboring Swaziland on young women coming of age amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Then in 2007, Krisanne began to focus in earnest on South Africa’s post-apartheid youth, as they strived to escape the country’s ignominious past. She has returned almost every year for extensive periods of time to continue her work on each project.
“It’s important for me to really take my time and understand the dynamics of the different neighborhoods and people,” she says.
Krisanne has pieced together different chapters of the post-apartheid story, from broader subcultures to intimate, personal, daily life portraits of her subjects. She has photographed Kwaito culture, a musical genre that emerged from the townships at the end of apartheid, along with the rising middle class of Soweto fashionistas, known as the Smarteez, taking over the streets with their inventive style of dress.
“On my most recent trip, I’ve been looking at issues surrounding housing rights, unemployment, income inequality and social segregation in Cape Town,” she says. “I spent three months there and I’ve only started to crack the surface.”