Gisèle Wulfsohn

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Gisèle Wulfsohn (18 March 1957 – 27 December 2011) was a South African photographer.[1] Wulfsohn was a newspaper, magazine, and freelance photographer, most known for documenting various HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. She died in 2011 from lung cancer.

Early life[edit]

Wulfsohn was born in Rustenburg, South Africa. She attended Johannesburg College of Art, where she studied graphic fine art.


Wulfsohn started her professional career at The Star newspaper in 1979, where she worked as a staff photographer. In 1983 she moved to STYLE magazine, and in 1986 she was appointed chief photographer for Leadership Magazine. In 1987 she went freelance and joined Afrapix[2] – a photographic collective documenting social issues and the anti-apartheid struggle.

Work with HIV/AIDS[edit]

Starting in the late 1980s Wulfsohn documented various HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives.[3] Some of her early work involved documenting training with traditional healers conducted in the early 90s with AIDSCOM.[4] In 1999–2000, while working for the Department of Health's "Beyond Awareness" campaign, she shot a series of photographs of 31 South Africans who had publicly disclosed their HIV status. Her "Living Openly" photographs were published in newspapers and magazines around South Africa, and were displayed at the Durban International Aids Conference.

Her "Living Openly" project was featured in a TV documentary that was broadcast numerous times in 2000. Her "Living Openly" exhibition was displayed at various centres and conferences, including at the Aids in Context Conference at WITS University in April 2001, and the Healing Through Creative Arts Conference at Museum Afrika, in Johannesburg, in November 2001.

Wulfsohn's HIV work is described in her own words as her 'HIV/AIDS photo journey', and the Centre for The Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria produced an illustrated calendar of her work just before she died.[5]

Wulfsohn's commitment to documenting the struggle against HIV and AIDS in South Africa continued over 20 years and was regarded as seminal.[6] A comprehensive record of her work in the field has been compiled by Annabelle Wienand.[7] Her HIV work has featured in publications all over the world: the Australian Human Rights Centre's 'Human Rights Defender' carried a feature of her work in the July 2014 issue (Vol.23, Issue 2).

Other professional work[edit]

Throughout her career Wulfsohn photographed many of South Africa's most prominent woman leaders, including Frances Baard, Ellen Khuzwayo, Albertina Sisulu, Helen Joseph, Adelaide Tambo, Fatima Meer, Amina Cachalia and many others. These photographs form the Malibongwe exhibition, curated by the Apartheid Museum and developed to commemorate 50th anniversary of the Women's March in 1956, and have been displayed in South Africa, Rwanda and elsewhere.

Wulfsohn's photographs have been published internationally in publications such as Mother Jones, The Lancet, The Economist, Der Spiegel (Germany), Marie Claire (UK, Germany, Poland, Hong Kong), Los Angeles Times, New Internationalist, as well as in local and general publications.

In 1991, Wulfsohn travelled to Zambia to document South Africans living in exile and returning home after the unbanning of the ANC, and some of these images are included in Hugh Macmillan's book 'The Lusaka Years' (Jacana, 2013).

In 1994 she was commissioned by the Independent Electoral Commission to document the first democratic elections in South Africa. These pictures were published in a book entitled "An End to Waiting". She was picture editor and photographer for The South African Women's Health Book published by Oxford University Press with The Women's Health Project in 1996.

She was hired by OXFAM UK and Frances Lincoln Publishers in 2000 to take the photographs for a children's' counting book, called "One Child, One Seed", set in rural KwaZulu Natal.[8]

After illustrating "One Child One Seed", she was asked by the same publisher to write and illustrate 'Bongani's Day – A Day in the Life of a South African Child'.[9]

Gisele worked for a range of national and international NGOs including the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mindset, NBI (National Business Initiative), ACTIONAID UK and Oxfam UK. She also produced portraits of some of the South African Constitutional Court Judges, which hang in the public art area of the Constitutional Court.

A number of Wulfsohn's pictures were included in the 'Then and Now' publication, in which the work of eight South African photographers who worked during and after the apartheid era is highlighted.[10] Six of her images are included in the 'Rise and Fall of Apartheid' exhibition.[11]

Wulfsohn documented development projects with Action Aid in Mozambique in 2008. Her last significant body of work was the 'Flagnation' series of colour images of flags photographed around South Africa in June 2010 at the time of the soccer World Cup.


Solo Exhibitions:

Living Openly. Bat Centre, Durban, July 2000.

Malibongwe – Let us Praise the Women. Travelling exhibition. Apartheid Museum October 2006/Nelson Mandela Foundation/Parliament Cape Town/ Slave Lodge Cape Town/ Rwanda 2013

Group Exhibitions:

Living Openly. Bonanai Africa, Museum Afrika, 2002.

SA Women’s Projects. Bonani Africa, Museum Afrika 2002.

The Fatherhood Project. Museum Afrika 2004.

Then & Now. Travelling exhibition SA/ Europe/ USA/ Australia 2007.

Rise & Fall of Apartheid. 2013–2014, USA, Europe, South Africa (Museum Afrika)

Ngezinyawo – Migrant Journeys, Wits Art Museum, 2014

Death and legacy[edit]

Wulfsohn was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 2005, and lived until 27 December 2011. She left behind a husband, Mark Turpin, and twin sons Joseph and Samuel. After she died a bursary in her name was established by her family and friends at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg to support young photographers committed to using photography in documenting important social issues.[12] The first bursary recipient was Sydelle Willow Smith, and her solo exhibition 'Soft Walls' was displayed at the Market Photo Workshop [13] and the Cape Town AVA gallery in early 2014, and subsequently at an open-air exhibition on the Seapoint Promenade. [14] The 2014/15 bursary recipient is Siphosihle Mkhwanazi [15] and his 'Usual Suspects' exhibition will open in June 2015.

Wulfsohn's photographic archive is held at the Visual Archive at the University of Cape Town Library.