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Aperture : Ernest Cole : The True America


Aperture presents Ernest Cole: The True America, the first publication of photographs taken in the United States by renowned South African photographer Ernest Cole. With more than 260 previously unpublished images documenting New York, other major cities, and the rural South amid the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s, this compilation redefines the scope of Cole’s work and shares a new window into American society through his incisive eye.

After fleeing South Africa to publish his landmark book House of Bondage in 1967 (reissued by Aperture in 2022) on the horrors of apartheid, Ernest Cole became a “banned person” and resettled in New York. He photographed the city’s streets extensively, chronicling daily life in Harlem and around Manhattan. In 1968 he traveled across the country to cities including Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, as well as to rural areas of the South, capturing the activism and emotional tenor in the months leading up to and just after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The True America reflects the contradictions between a newfound hope and freedom that Cole experienced in the United States alongside the systemic racism and injustice he witnessed. Cole released very few images from this body of work during his lifetime. Thought to be lost entirely, the negatives of these pictures of resurfaced in Sweden in 2017 and were returned to the Ernest Cole Family Trust. The first publication sharing this work, The True America features a preface by film director Raoul Peck, whose documentary on Cole will soon be released, and texts by journalist James Sanders and scholar Leslie M. Wilson.


Ernest Cole (born in Transvaal, South Africa, 1940; died in New York, 1990) is best known for House of Bondage, a photobook published in 1967 that chronicles the horrors of apartheid. After fleeing South Africa in 1966, he became a “banned person,” settling in New York. He was associated with Magnum Photos and received funding from the Ford Foundation to undertake a project looking at Black communities and cultures in the United States. Cole spent an extensive time in Sweden and became involved with the Tiofoto collective. He died at age forty-nine of cancer. In 2017, more than sixty thousand of his negatives—missing for more than forty years—resurfaced in Sweden. In 2022, House of Bondage was reissued by Aperture.


Ernest Cole : The True America
Format: Hardcover
Number of pages: 304
Number of images: 260
Measurements: 8 3/8 x 11 1/2 inches
ISBN: 9781597115346
US $65.00 / CDN $88.00 / UK £50.00

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