It is early evening and sitting across the table from me is Dale Yudelman. He focuses on me over the edge of his wire-framed sunglasses. He doesn’t take them off. I look back trying to find his eyes.
INTERVIEW: RUAN SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY: DALE YUDELMAN
PORTRAIT: JACQUI VAN STADEN
Dale is a photographer. He has no official educational documentation stating his intelligence regarding the use of a camera. Nope, Dale has the accolade of life and hard work carved out on his totem pole. Over 4 decades of actively shooting ‘societal blues’ has resulted in a myriad of awards, exhibitions and successful collaborations.
A quote by American artist Chuck Close is something he likes to refer to when asked about his work ethic. “Inspiration is for amateurs. Only amateurs sit around waiting for inspiration to hit. There is no waiting. You make art. The inspiration comes in the process, the energy and motivation is in the doing.”
IMAGE – Frank Zappa – Los Angeles: 1992
Having been ripened with camera knowledge from an early age, ironically enough by “serious amateur photographers” as Dale refers to them, didn’t harm his knowledge pool either. His dentist father, chairman of the Camera Club of Johannesburg at the time, schooled him in the use of a camera. Dale jokingly adds “It is safe to assume that the chemicals my father used in his makeshift darkroom, which also happened to be my bedroom, seeped into my system, predisposing me to getting hooked on photography at an early age.” The time spent at the Camera Cub alongside his father was also rife with comments, criticism and advice. So growing up amongst the camera craziness had its advantages.
When the time came for Dale to enter the job market, he naturally gravitated to something in the line of photography. His first job as a photojournalist at the Star Newspaper in Johannesburg during the late 70s and early 80s has continued to influence him in a way that is still evident in his work today.
Besides the lasting impression of working in the journalism field, the fast paced world of shooting on film for news media in those days seemed very limiting and contrived to Dale’s inclinations and eye for the aesthetic. He spent his free time roaming the streets or wherever he happened to be, capturing moments of the human psyche that reached out to him. A collection of these images during this period can be seen in the series ‘Suburbs in Paradise’.
The yearning for freedom of expression led to his departure in 1986, not only from fulltime photojournalism, but also from South Africa. Politically, the country was on the verge of a revolution and didn’t exactly foster the ideal climate for exposing the truth as he saw it. Leaving for London and later Los Angeles, he earned bucks by freelancing for the LA Times, The Guardian and other publications.
He recalls a paparazzi-type job where the assignment was to get pictures of a naughty Boy George on the run. He refrains from elaborating simply stating that it was one of the worst assignments ever. One of the highlights was photographing musician Frank Zappa at his home in LA. It was also during this time abroad that Dale picked up a stray guitar and started playing for kicks – a hobby that grew rather serious and spanned a decade of his life playing in a band called Hall Of Souls.
His ten-year stay abroad was a massive “wake up call” he says, and on his return to native soil in 1996 he approached his career with renewed energy and confidence. His first major work since arriving back home and first collaboration was with artist Arlene Amaler-Raviv. Extending his reach into mixed media (photography and painting), Dale and Arlene had numerous successful exhibitions over time; a notable show called Livestock was shown at the Havana Biennale in Cuba and later acquired by Standard Bank for their Corporate Art Collection in Johannesburg. The work explores social issues such as the monetary value of bank notes vs. the African currency of cattle, which through the ages has represented wealth and social status in many indigenous tribes across southern Africa.
In his more media covered and recent work, Life under Democracy, he portrays society and its Zeitgeist in South Africa post 1994. This has been credited as the pinnacle of his career – a project that won him the prestigious Ernest Cole Award. Dale says he drew inspiration from Cole’s banned book from the 60’s – House of Bondage, which tells the story of being a black person in South Africa during the apartheid era.
For this project Dale captured the content with his IPhone using the app Hipstamatic – technology has come a long way considering he remembers rubbing Vaseline on his lens to create a blurry- edged effect.
I was struggling to make a connection with art, digital applications, and Dale’s photojournalism background, especially when choosing a sensitive topic like a new democracy and basing it on Cole’s most famous work. Considering street photography or rather social documentary photography, there is the idea that the photo should by no means be subject to post production. Some opinions state that it robs the image of its sincerity and authenticity. Dale oiled my rusty brain and explained that “photo manipulation starts way before post processing. The frame the photographer chooses to capture only represents a portion of a bigger picture”. So it is in photojournalism where a moment is being captured to depict a bigger story; the final frame is still subject to what the person behind the lens chooses to snap and portray. He adds “the closest you can ever come to the absolute truth in photography would be a photo finish at a horse race”.
Dale, not being into horse racing, focuses on capturing life. He seamlessly succeeds in highlighting the somewhat dreary, emotional and ironical moments around us. His pictures capture and depict emotions coupled with struggle, departure, fight and flight.
Made in RSA began with Dale visiting an expo centered on empowering women, where he met a vendor promoting self-defence. Part of her exhibit featured a bowl filled with DIY knives confiscated by police and displayed as evidence of gang fights and suburban violence. Intrigued by the uniquely personalized objects he set up a time to photograph the weapons and further understand the social implications of this sinister cache.
I am…, created in 2007, was a series focusing on the issue of isolation as experienced by foreigners seeking refuge in South Africa. The works are a combination of classified job seeker ads, common in grocery stores, coupled with stirring pictures of solitary individuals. The images reflect on the barriers faced by refugees in terms of language, skills and ongoing social exclusion.
On new media, and the immense photo sharing culture of today – something not available when Dale was growing into photography – he has this to say: “I think it’s great that there is access to media formats and streams where budding photographers or hobbyists can showcase their work and efforts.” Other than a personal website showcasing his work, he declines the opportunity to build on a social profile, believing that the world is bombarded with enough images on a daily basis and doesn’t feel the need to add to the bloated picture pool online.
Currently Dale resides in Hout Bay, South Africa, having just returned from Cleveland, Ohio – where he undertook a 3-month artist residency in the USA shooting a new project and teaching young students new photographic skills. He likes to spend his downtime with a camera in hand searching markets for treasure. As for music and computers, these also feature prominently in Dale’s life, that is to say he admits to playing air guitar occasionally and might look at getting an Xbox when or rather if he retires. It would be a welcome upgrade from the Asteroids arcade game and pinball machines he played back in the 80s.
INFO – www.daleyudelman.com
‘In the Flesh’
‘Love & Peace’
‘Too Long in the Wasteland’