Bobson Studio was founded by Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall (1928 – 2003) in Durban, South Africa, in 1961. The studio catered mainly to a Zulu clientele, who posed in their own beadwork and costumes for formal portraits that were also made into postcards, which could be sent to distant relatives and friends. Bobson used two cameras during this time, a Yashica Matt 120mm and a Rolliflex 120mm. The studio became the city’s most famous portrait studio, and attracted clients countrywide. Many of the clients belonged to the Ndwandwe people, a subgroup of the Zulu who live in the region known as Valley of a Thousand Hills, between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the major cities of the KwaZulu-Natal province. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Bobson Studio began to offer color portraits, which best captured the vivid dress of the clients.
Today, the art historical value of Bobson’s archive has become apparent. In the field of African studio photography, a topic of growing interest, Bobson is South Africa’s finest example, and is apparently the earliest African studio archive in color. The archive also forms a unique documentary record of the Ndwandwe beadwork in use at the time, and how African “tradition” coexisted with international, urban style.
Axis Gallery has represented and exhibited the Bobson Studio archive since 2000, and since Sukdeo Bobson Mohanlall’s tragic death in 2003, is the exclusive international representative of the estate.
Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall’s photographs have been exhibited internationally, and featured in, Dark Room: South African Photography and New Media 1950-Present, Aug-Oct. 2010, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia, Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, Jan. 23, 2011. This year they will be featured in The Other Camera, at the University of Michigan Institute for Humanities Gallery, Anne Arbor, Michigan and Contemporary Art/South Africa at Yale University Art Gallery.
Mohanlall’s work is in several private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The Newark Museum, New Jersey.
SELECTED EXHIBITIONS AND PUBLICATIONS
The Other Camera Origins Museum, Commune. 1, Cape Town, South Africa
’The Other Camera’ at Commune. 1: A Participatory view of Africa”. By Jessica Hunkin
Between 10and5, The creative showcase. July 17 2015
The Other Camera Origins Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa
“Ordinary people celebrated in street photographers’ art.” Robyn Sassen. Mail & Guardian. February 25, 2015
“Finding Hidden Treasures in a strongroom of dreams.” Tymon Smith. Sunday Times, February 22, 2015
The Other Camera The Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
The Other Camera Exposures, Halmstad, Sweden
The Other Camera Exposures, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden
Contemporary Art/South Africa at Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Bobson Sukhdeo Mohanlall, Axis Gallery, New York
The Other Camera University of Michigan Institute for Humanities Gallery, Anne Arbor, Michigan
Darkroom: Photography and New Media in South Africa since 1950
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography
Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Tamar Garb. Steidl, 2011
Darkroom: Photography and New Media in South Africa since 195
Virginia Museum of Arts, Richmond, VA
Rankin in South Africa, BBC film on photography in South Africa
In the Studio: Portrait Photographs from Africa, Newark Museum, NJ,
“Zulu,” Axis Gallery, New York
Bobson Portraits, Milano Libri, Milan, Italy
Bobson Portraits, Centro Culturale Paggeria del Commune di Sassuolo, Sassuolo, Italy
Towards-Transit: new visual languages in South Africa. Serge Ziegler Galerie, Zürich
Pro Helvetia, Arts Council of Switzerland
Bobson Portraits, South African Embassy, Accra, Ghana
eye Africa: African photographs 1887-1997, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
L’Afrique Pare Elle-Même, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris France
Studio Portraits, Bobson Studio, AREA Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
Studio Portraits, Bobson Studio, NSA Gallery, Durban, South Africa
Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
South African National Gallery, Cape Town, SA