Commonplace is an imagined conversation between two very different South African family photographic archives.

The first, dating back to the 1850s, is the album of a white rural family, built up over several generations.

The second is the work of two black African photographers — father and son — who offered their services to the urban black, coloured and Indian residents of a small town near Johannesburg in the 1950s and 1960s.

Presented side by side, the people shown in these images are unlikely to have met each other. Yet in bringing the images from both collections together, a creative dialogue is established. Unexpected visual connections begin to emerge, suggesting the varied ways in which lives lived in different times and places might resonate with each other. This exercise in juxtaposition does not claim to transcend the political, but brings to the fore the unremarkable, commonplace details that make the political deeply personal.

Commonplace began as two separate doctoral research projects at Leiden University in which Feyder and Adams were considering the importance of private photographs for our understanding of the past and our changing relationships to it. Dwelling on the quiet, non-sensational, everyday stories taking place at the margins of—even in spite of—the ‘struggle narrative’, this book invites us to reconsider the ways in which we interpret such images and the histories they suggest.

Sophie Feyder was born in Brussels and grew up in New York and Luxembourg. After a degree in political science in Paris, she eventually brought together her interests in photography and African history in an MPhil dissertation on black popular photography in Johannesburg. She met Farrell Ngilima during her first fieldwork trip to Johannesburg in 2008. Their close collaboration on his grandfather’s photographic collection has been an important part of her PhD research at Leiden University.

Tamsyn Adams was born in Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa as a child. She completed an art degree at the Durban University of Technology in 1997, later moving to London where she worked at a so ware company. In 2009, she completed an MA in cultural studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and began her PhD at the University of Leiden the following year. Her family’s collection of photographs has been an ongoing influence in much of her work.

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