5th Nov, 2020 19:00

Aspire X PLP | African Photography Auction 2020

Lot 85
Lot 85 - T. J. Lemon (South Africa 1959-)


T. J. Lemon (South Africa 1959-)
From the series Oswenka, the Jeppe hostel swankers [The Jeppe hostel swankers strike a pose before a show in the hostel basement]

archival ink print on Ilford Gold Fibre Gloss cotton paper

Artwork date: 2000
Signature details: signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse
Edition: number 1 from an edition of 10

Sold for R22,278
Estimated at R15,000 - R20,000


archival ink print on Ilford Gold Fibre Gloss cotton paper

Artwork date: 2000
Signature details: signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse
Edition: number 1 from an edition of 10


image size: 21.5 x 31.5 cm, sheet size: 30 x 40 cm, unframed


J. Lemon began his career in photography in the 1980s as a student covering events at the small university town of Makhanda (then Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Lemon was a lecturer in Photojournalism at Rhodes University from 1988–1989. He had three exhibitions in Makhanda before moving to Johannesburg in 1990, where he was appointed as director and trainer at thenewly formed Market Photo Workshop. Lemon was also a contributor to the photographers’ collective Afrapix. After the 1994 elections, he took a sta"er position at Independent Newspapers and became chief photographer of The Sunday Independent. He pursued news and feature work as it was required, but enjoyed the versatility a weekly publication o"ered. He began writing for his picture features and went on to win a World Press Photo award (2001) for his photo-essay, Oswenka, the Jeppe hostel swankers. In 2010, Lemon left Independent Newspapers to pursue freelance work and long-term photographic projects. He taught in the Journalism department at Wits University from 2013–2015. Lemon collaborated with Louise Meintjes, from Duke University, on the book, Dust of the Zulu (2017), and an exhibition in Durham (2018). His exhibition, Comrades, Warriors and Volkstaat Kommandos, was shown at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda (2019). "I first met the swenka when photographing isicathamiya choirs in an empty building on Goud Street, Johannesburg, 1990. Louise Meintjes was recording audio of the choirs. We had heard about a ‘best dressed man competition’ and figured this group of performers were curtain raising for the choirs. As a sta"er for the The Sunday Independent, I was always looking for lifestyle features and I returned to document the swenkas in 2000. I believe these competitions begun as entertainment in the hostels in the 1950s. Today’s swenkas stress that participating is also about keeping your dignity in the face of adversity. Generally, the swenka would arrive at 10pm, wearing white dust coats to protect their brand name suits. They also carried briefcases and wore the trademark Dobbs hats. In their briefcases they carried shiny shoes, broaches, rings and some have muti (traditional medicine). I shot the whole project on black and white film, mostly because of the low light. I also used a fixed lens and monopod." Oswenka, the Jeppe hostel swankers was published in The Sunday Independent (2000) and has won several international awards, including a World Press Photo award (2001) and the Mohamid Amin award (CNN Africa journalism awards, 2001). The series has been exhibited as part of the World Press Photo international travelling exhibition (2001); Afropolis, which travelled to Cairo, Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa, and Johannesburg (2007); the Photoquai Biennial, Paris (2007); Duke University, Durham (2004); and the Bensusan Museum of Photography, Johannesburg (2001). From left to right in the group photo (lot 85) Dingani Zulu, Mathews Mbatha, Alpheus Hlatshwayo, Adolphus Mbuyisa, Bhekizenzo Buthelezi, Piet Zulu, Sesulelo Ngubese.

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Auction: Aspire X PLP | African Photography Auction 2020, 5th Nov, 2020

A collection of pan-African works, straddling the terrain between historical and contemporary photography, were auctioned to support the digitisation of African photographic legacies by the Photography Legacy Project (PLP). Bidders participated from across Europe, the USA and UK, Asia, Australia and Africa – a testament to Aspire’s increasing global reach and collectors’ enthusiasm for African photography.

The auction included photographic luminaries such as David Goldblatt, Alf Kumalo, G.R. Naidoo, Ranjith Kally and Ian Berry, as well as more contemporary internationally acclaimed photographers like Guy Tillim, Jo Ractliffe, Syowia Kyambi and Mikhael Subotzky. The lead lot, a portfolio of 12 silver gelatin prints from the legendary photographer Ernest Cole’s seminal 1967 book House of Bondage sold for an astounding R569,000 – a new world auction record.



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