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 as a staff photographer at The Star newspaper in 1979. 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 documented 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.

The "Living Openly" project 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 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 many 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 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 South Africa, Europe, USA, Australia 2007.
  • Rise & Fall of Apartheid, 2013–2014, USA, Europe, South Africa (Museum Afrika)
  • Ngezinyawo – Migrant Journeys, Wits Art Museum, 2014
  • Between States of Emergency, Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2015

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 to document 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 in Cape Town.[14] The 2014/15 bursary recipient was Siphosihle Mkhwanazi [15] and his 'Usual Suspect' exhibition opened in June 2015.[16][17] Phumzile Khanyile was appointed as the third bursary recipient for 2015/16.[18] Her 'Plastic Crowns' exhibition, focusing on issues of gender and identity, opened at the Market Photo Workshop in February 2017 and was a winning submission for the 2018 Contemporary African Photography Prize.[19][20]

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


  1. ^ "Obituary: Gisèle Wulfsohn: indomitable spirit". Times Live. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  2. ^ sahoboss (22 March 2011). "Afrapix timeline 1978 - 1991". South African History Online. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  3. ^ "Ghosts of the past". Mail & Guardian. 5 March 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Ludman, Barbara. "Gisèle Wulfsohn: A self-portrait of courage". The M&G Online. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  7. ^ "Kronos – Portraits, publics and politics: Gisele Wulfsohn's photographs of HIV/AIDS, 1987–2007". Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Gisele Wulfsohn | South African History Online". 8 September 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Gisèle Wulfsohn: A self-portrait of courage | In The Paper | Friday | Mail & Guardian". Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 July 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life". International Center of Photography. 23 February 2016. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  12. ^ "The Gisèle Wulfsohn Mentorship in Photography – Market Photo Workshop". Archived from the original on 7 October 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "このURLのページは表示することが出来ませんでした。 IP分散サーバーならIQサーバー|クラスCの完全分散が月額139円~". Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  15. ^ "News – The Market Photo Workshop". Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 September 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ ART AFRICA (6 August 2015). "'The Usual Suspect:' In Conversation with Siphosihle Mkhwanazi". YouTube. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Plastic Crowns : A solo exhibition by 2015 Gisèle Wulfsohn Mentorship Recipient Phumzile Khanyile" (PDF). Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  20. ^ "CAP Prize 2018 - Winners". Retrieved 25 March 2019.