Per has Africa in focus

Per-Anders Pettersson has watched the Rainbow Nation evolve.

Swedish photographer Per-Anders Pettersson who lives in Buitenkant Street in the CBD has been taking pictures from the tender age of 13 years old ‑ and his work has subsequently taken him across the globe.

Mr Pettersson said while at high school at Bodaskolan in Boras, Sweden, he took up photography as an extra-curricular activity. “I became fascinated with capturing images and I soon became the school photographer.

“I later went to work at the local newspaper, Boras Tidning. There, I worked in the dark room and I became amazed at how different a photographer’s days could be. You can meet the mayor in the morning and be covering a story at a construction site later in the day,” he said.

He has never been too interested in the “technical aspects” of photography, he says, taking more interest in capturing the lives of people.

“Most people told me photography wasn’t a stable profession and my parents encouraged me to study an accounting degree at the University of Gothenburg, the country’s second largest university. But during the summer; I would hone my craft,” he added.

In 1988 he entered compulsory one-year conscription with the military and while doing his training, he worked on their magazine Varnplikstnytt. “During that time I learnt how to use a gun, covered stories of being in a submarine and visited other military bases to cover stories and take pictures for the magazine,” he said.

In 1989 he went to work for one of the largest Swedish newspapers at the time, Expressen, which took him to Berlin and Romania, among others.

“That experience triggered my interest in international news and press photography,” he said.

In May 1990 he packed his bags and moved to New York in search of better opportunities. “My first six months in Brooklyn were challenging. At that time, crime was very bad in the area and I got robbed on the subway several times. As 1991 dawned, the area started to change and Times Square was given a facelift. Over the years, it has changed and now New York has become somewhat of a ‘Disneyland’,” he said.

While freelancing for publications, he started to work on his own projects. “This led me to Cuba where I covered the general elections under the Fidel Castro-led communist regime.

“I travelled to Cambodia in 1992 to cover their elections and I later travelled to South Africa to cover the country’s first democratic elections.”

Mr Pettersson arrived in South Africa for the first time in early April 1994. “I lived in Mellville in Johannesburg and there was a lot of fear, fighting and shooting when I arrived. I took pictures of Madiba and FW De Klerk and worked a bit with members of the infamous Bang Bang Club. They were mavericks and some of their antics became a bit too dangerous for my taste,” he said.

The Bang Bang Club was a group of photographers who covered the activity in South African townships between 1990 and 1994, during the transition from apartheid to democracy.

Mr Pettersson stayed on until Mabida was officially inaugurated and continued to visit the country as the years passed by. “I became amazed with South Africa. I photographed Mabida many times and the last time was in 2010 at the One & Only Hotel in the Waterfront,” he said.

In 1996 he moved to the country for one year and started dabbling in war photography.

“I became interested in what was transpiring in other African countries. I took pictures in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where I met CNN’s Anderson Cooper. During this time I travelled to Kosovo and Albania and took pictures of the atrocities occurring there. In 1996 I got an agent from Black Star which enabled me to work for international magazines and led to my work being distributed more widely,” he said.

He finally moved to Cape Town in 2000 and in 2013 his first book, Rainbow in Transit, was published. “It documents an emerging South African democracy and the book comprises 79 photographs I took in varying socio-economic circumstances in many parts of the country. One day I plan to do a book about the ‘new Soweto’,” he said.

The well-travelled lensman also got the opportunity to photograph American actress Angelina Jolie when she visited a refugee camp on the border of Sudan.

In 2009 his focus changed slightly when he was invited to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and he became fascinated by the South African fashion scene.

“I met many of the black elite and cool, new youth from Soweto doing amazing things in terms of fashion,” he said.

Last year, he launched his second book, African Catwalk, in Milan. It is a collection of photos taken at fashion week events in Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Dakar, among others.

“I was invited backstage at these fashion shows and I saw positive and uplifting creations. I found conversations flowed because I didn’t have to work with translators.”

His book portrays a different facet of Africa; one where African pride is clearly displayed. “My pictures show the grace, beauty, creativity and great designs present all over Africa,” he said.

Commenting on where he thinks South Africa is going, he said: “The country has so much potential in terms of land, tourism and minerals. However, there are many things lacking such as the country’s education system, and corruption.”

His latest challenge will be that of a judge, at the Mercedes-Benz Bokeh South African International Fashion Film Festival, at Mercedes Benz in Canal Walk on Friday and Saturday April 7 and 8. “Three of my photos from the book will also be display at the festival this year,” he added.

To see more of his work visit