George Hallett – Photographer – 1942-2020 RIP
It is a time of loss, mourning, grief. On this day we say farewell to photographer, George Hallett. ‘Iconic’ is a word that comes to mind when thinking about George and his photographs; a legend has indeed crossed over.
George was a demanding and exacting person to work with. Wits University Press published several of his photographic collections, and with each he was deeply involved in the process, giving the production department a real headache at times! Since he had experience in designing books and book covers for Heinemann, producing the classic look for their African Writers’ Series, he knew exactly what he wanted. He got involved in all the technical details of design (fonts, layouts, cover treatments and finishes) and print (paper choice, thickness, bulk, opacity). Everything had to be ‘just so’. He was an artist from the ‘old school’. When it came to the biography on Richard Rive, a close friend and former school teacher at South Peninsula High, we used one of George’s images for the cover. George didn’t have it digitally, only on film. So, he went to the dark room in his home to print out images and posted them to us for digital scanning. Then he wanted to see the cover design and have colour prints sent to his house so he could check the colour balancing and contrasts were exactly right. He had to have the final say, to the end.
En enfant terrible, agent provocateur, George could challenge, bait, flirt and charm a person all at once. But he was also generous of his talents and his time for those he liked as well as young artists. He loved to have a few drinks and regale you with stories of his love affairs and all the famous people he had met.
Above and beyond all this, George had an incredible eye, and that street photographer talent of capturing a moment at the right time. He is most famous for his portraits of African writers and artists living in exile during apartheid, his intimate and warm images of Nelson Mandela in the transition years, and his lively images of life in District Six just before it was razed to the ground. He was part of a generation of Black artists from South Africa who lived under apartheid and its racist authoritarianism and violence. Dreams of a creative life carried a different weight then. Let us remember today the spirit of George Hallett and the legacy he leaves behind: a master who paved the way for Black artists to pursue their seemingly impossible dreams. Hamba Kahle, George. Hamba Kahle.
by Roshan Cader – Commissioning Editor – Wits University Press