Picks and Pans Review: South Africa: the Cordoned Heart

UPDATED 06/09/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/09/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

by 20 South African photographers

Most of the 136 photographs in this book are not particularly dramatic. They are of average black South Africans going about their daily lives. But it is hard to imagine any more striking portrayals of the grueling, embittering, enraging impact of apartheid than what is written on the faces of these people. Selected from more than 1,000 pictures submitted by the 20 photographers, both black and white, these shots show a succession of little horror stories: A family emerges from its home, which is a steel shipping container abandoned in the middle of a field; a long line of workers waits for the bus from their isolated village to their jobs in an area where only whites can live—it's 2:30 a.m. and the ride will take three hours; 80 children with only one teacher crowd into a school room. The accompanying text by Zambia-born economist Francis Wilson is often thick with data and emotionally thin, yet the book provides a painfully intimate look at a society that can often, to Americans, seem hopelessly remote. And even assuming the worst—that these pictures were taken and edited with the aim of misleading the outside world about the extent of poverty among South African blacks—the book makes a credible case. As such, it represents a substantial challenge to South Africa's government to remove its restrictions on reporters and photographers in the interest of the truth. (The International Center of Photography in New York has organized an exhibit featuring selections from The Cordoned Heart which will be on display through June 22 and will then travel to other U.S. cities.) (Norton, $25)

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