Iconic South Africans

Every so often you stumble on something that is worth more than a passing glance.  Like the 21 Icons Project which hopes to inspire future South Africans.  “Through sharing the remarkable stories of people who have devoted their lives to struggle for the greater good of mankind, it is hoped that new generations can be inspired to follow in the proud footsteps of these iconic men and women.”  Considering my last few posts I thought I’d better try to find something positive to say about the country of my birth or be branded a “Walt Kowalski” for all eternity.

The 21 Icons include the expected choices like Mandela, Tutu and Gordimer and others most of us have heard of like William Kentridge, Phillip Tobias and Hugh Masekela but what surprised me is that there  also people included who I have never even heard of… even in passing.  People like Evelina Tshabalala, a HIV+ athlete and Helen Sebidi, an artist or Lillian Cingo, a specialist neurosurgical nurse.  I suppose being an icon to inspire future generations does not mean you need to have “mainstream” fame and the choices of the 21 Icons team definitely support this.

I have yet to see the short documentaries dedicated to each icon that the project is showing on local TV so I cannot comment on them, but the photos and website definitely paint portraits of some very interesting and inspirational people who South Africans are sorely in need of placing on the proverbial pedestal… if you are interested in this kind of thing, I’d recommend you visit.

But… yes yes, I could not leave without a criticism.  That would not be me now would it.

Every week in the local Sunday Times, the chosen icons portrait is printed on semi decent quality paper at A3 size and presented to the general population in all the photographers staged splendour. …  and most of the time I think the images are very poor representations of the icons chosen or simply just poor photographs.  Granted, there are a few that I like, but out of the 18 published so far, there are perhaps two that I give the thumbs up – as portrait photography – and even those two pale when compared to the far more interesting ‘behind-the-scenes’ images of the icons and photographers.

21icon_cingo_121icon_cingo_2Take the image of Lillian Cingo chosen – it’s a very good portrait and I like the expression and detail of the image, but it’s staged and quite obviously (in my opinion) fake and empty – especially for someone who has spent her life caring for others…  Look at the other images, the ones of her laughing in the crowd of children, or the other of her clapping her hands together – to me, these images are far more real and interesting than the portrait chosen.

Look at the image of Philip Tobias, holding the lantern in the dark with his trademark quirky smile.  This is perhaps the best of the lot for me because you catch a glimpse of personality, but again, its staged and the other images of him, even the one of him sharing a joke with the photographer beside the rows and rows of ancient hominid skulls seem to say far more about him.21icon_tobias_2

Most of the images are ok, but the chosen portraits of de Klerk, Tutu, Chaka Chaka, Kentridge and Clegg are, in my opinion, crap. Sorry, but there is no other way to put it.  They are very poor representations of people who deserve better… Even the one of Nelson Mandela does little justice to the man without whom South Africa would be a much darker unhappier place.

By all means, go visit the 21 Icons site  – everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the artistic merits of the work but few can fault the ultimate goal of the project – to inspire South Africans by highlighting, not those in power, but those who have made a valuable contribution to our country and its people.


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