Alastair Whitton

Coming soon

A Foreign Land

Alastair Whitton - Silver Prints

Marlene Dumas - Introduction

Ashraf Jamal - Essay

Warning Sign II_Walmer Estate.jpg

A Foreign Land

“My first reaction to these photographs was to shiver. Two sentences came to mind, by I know not whom – ‘Africa is a cold country where the sun always shines’ and another – ‘The touch of the devil is as cold as ice’. In the Bible of my youth, hell is hot and God can speak through burning bushes. This was the art history book most of us started with. Memory loves associations. Alastair Whitton’s photographic Rorschach tests show veiled layers, but have clear titles. We cannot dream without being hurt. We are lead to a place called Cape Town. I was born there in 1953 and grew up in parts around there till 1976 and my mother tongue is still closer to ‘Kaaps’ than any other language. These works carry the sound of dry grass with the wind sweeping across the sands of the Cape Flats smelling of Sunlight soap and as I re-read the of poems of Adam Small (South African 1936 -2016 ) I weep.”

Marlene Dumas, Amsterdam, July 2019

*Excerpt from Marlene Dumas’ introductory text to ‘A Foreign Land’ by Alastair Whitton.

“When Walter Benjamin described Atget’s photographs as ‘the scene of a crime’, it was the photographer’s ability to conjure portentous meaning within the seemingly nondescript which compelled him. ‘Is not every spot of our cities the scene of a crime? Every passerby a perpetrator?’, Benjamin asks. ‘Does not the photographer – descendent of augurers and haruspices – uncover guilt in his pictures?’. Something akin is at work in Whitton’s photographs. But it is not only guilt which informs his photographs, but the realisation of a more complex psychic entanglement of blight and hope. Whitton’s photographs do not declare their intent nor distract us with the gloss of the iconic. Rather, they ask us to linger within the spectre of a charged and fleeting moment that is both personal and impersonal. For if the artist’s quiet biography is implicated in the remaking and suturing of a psychically conflicted moment, this is because Whitton well recognises that he occupies a role in a drama that is never solely of his own making. He is both a perpetrator and a witness of a South African story – indeed the story of the world – in which immunity becomes impossible, and complicity inevitable. His photographs, then, are the enigmatic fragments of a time and place for which no record is ever final.”

*Excerpt from Ashraf Jamal’s essay - entitled ‘A Stranger Cargo’ - on the photographs of Alastair Whitton.

Ashraf Jamal is a Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, University of Johannesburg. He is the author of ‘In the World: Essays on Contemporary South African Art’ (Skira, 2017).    


Biography: Alastair Whitton

The photographic works of Alastair Whitton are preoccupied with ‘the mechanisms of memory and the mapping of geographies’. Through the lens he explores ‘the architecture of time and the poetics and politics of place’ attempting to illuminate the ‘space between moments’. His photographs celebrate the seemingly commonplace and are in effect ‘monuments to the dislocated and overlooked’. Of his creative practice the artist says, ‘I understand the process as a form of visual and cultural archaeology; a gathering and structuring of found fragments in an attempt to make sense of place and time and the recording of personal and collective histories.’

Alastair Whitton (born, Glasgow, UK) graduated with distinction from the Natal Technikon School of Fine Art in Durban, South Africa where he majored in sculpture and photography. As the overall top student in the Faculty of Art and Design he was awarded the Emma Smith International Scholarship and subsequently furthered his studies at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.

To date he has presented three solo shows of his photographs: Barnard, Cape Town (2014); Brundyn & Gonsalves, Cape Town (2010) and David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2009). His work has also been featured in curated group exhibitions at notable museums and institutions in South Africa and abroad. In the past decade these have included: Carreau du Temple, Paris (2017-2018); University of Johannesburg (2017); Pratt Institute, New York (2016); Museo Carlo Bilotti, Rome (2015); Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice (2015); The Center for Book Arts, New York (2014); Museo Casa dei Carraresi, Treviso (2014); Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon (2011); Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius (2011); IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2010); Fotomuseum, Antwerp (2010); Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg (2010); Musée National du Mali, Bamako (2009) and the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria (2009).

He has participated in various international art fairs and festivals including amongst others the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, Cape Town (2013-2019); AKAA: Also Known as Africa, Paris (2017-2018); Host: Editions, Cape Town (2015); FNB Joburg Art Fair, Johannesburg (2013-2014; 2009-2011); Head On Photo Festival, Sydney (2013); EAB Art Fair (Editions: Artists’ Books), New York (2009 & 2013) and Out of Africa Festival, Munich (1997).

The artist’s work is represented in the collections of the Durban Art Museum, University of South Africa, Durban Institute of Technology, South African Centre for Photography, Jack Ginsberg Collection / Ampersand Foundation, Musée National du Mali and the Luciano Benetton Collection in Venice.

Whitton lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.



Representative gallery: