In the early 1960s, he engaged systematically in documenting the life of the black population under the shadow of racist segregation. He was inspired by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and his book about people in Moscow. This project eventually resulted in the book House of Bondage, published in 1967, portraying, among other things, the harsh existence of miners, the recurring passport controls, the long and tiresome commutes, the black servants in white households, and street children – the Heirs of Poverty, as Cole called them.
Ernest Cole left South Africa in 1966 in order to publish his book. It was immediately banned in his home country, forcing him to live in exile for the rest of his life. He settled in Europe for a few years, and was a member of the Magnum photographic agency for some time, but eventually ended up in New York, where he lived until his death. Around 1970, he visited Sweden and exhibited his photographs in Stockholm and Gothenburg. Ernest Cole’s photographs were donated to the Hasselblad Foundation in Gothenburg and Moderna Museet in Stockholm through his colleagues in the Tio fotografer group.
Anna Tellgren, curator