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Bonne Espérance Gallery : Juhan Kuus


Bonne Espérance Gallery presents the first exhibition in Paris of the works of Juhan Kuus until March 30.

The gallery presents him as follows: one of the most fascinating photographers in South African history. Kuus was born in Cape Town in 1953 into a working-class family. He left school at 17. With no formal training in photography, he found work as an assistant to a photographer in Cape Town, then as a photojournalist. He quickly acquired a reputation for throwing himself into the heart of the action, into sometimes violent and dangerous situations, to get his picture, which brought him in very close contact with the people he photographed and, sometimes, with a damaged camera or a broken jaw. He always used short lens.

Kuus also gained a reputation for carrying a flask of whiskey and a gun while he worked, and he used the gun. Kuus was shunned by many of his colleagues because of his drinking, and his carrying weapons, and because he was a remarkably difficult person. In 1987, he was unsuccessfully charged with murder. He was expelled from the Foreign Correspondents Association. But these qualities also allowed him to gain the trust of some of his subjects, including the members of Cape Town’s most feared gangs.

Kuus worked for SIPA Press from 1986 to 2000 and captured the tragedy of South Africa on the brink of civil war, but also scenes from the country’s daily life. Kuus’s photos have appeared in some of the world’s best-known publications, including The Times, The Independent, The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, Stern and others. He has won the World Press Photo Award twice. In 1987, a book of his documentary photos, “South Africa in Black and White”, was published. This book was banned in South Africa.

Kuus was a photojournalist, but his photos tell deeply human stories about South Africans. He trained his lens on the poor, farm workers, the homeless, prisoners, gangsters, the mentally ill and the disenfranchised. In many ways, he was one of them. He was attracted to those left behind.

At the end of his life, Kuus lived in a homeless shelter in Cape Town. But he continued to take pictures, with a borrowed camera. He had sold his cameras because he needed money. The photos he took at this time focused on people living on the margins of South African society, and he lived with them. But people say that Kuus was happy at the end of his life and planned to move to Paris, a city he loved, and work as a freelancer. Kuus died in 2015, after a fall down the stairs of the home where he lived, he never returned to Paris. The Good Hope gallery presents 50 photos by Juhan Kuus (1953-2015).


Quotes from Juhan Kuus

“I am not an artist, I am a photographer. I photograph the imperfections of humanity that are loveable. For me photography is about people on the margins of society.” Juhan Kuus

“I’ve looked at the weird and the wonderful and the horrible and the downright scary in life. Now, living with the marginalized that I’ve always photographed, found fascinating, wanted to understand, wanted to tell the stories of, hey, I also exist and am therefore also a part of the magical stream of life and it is so normal the way I am, the way I think, the way I live and, despite what you may think, I also deserve my place in the sun. My sun may be a little crappy in your eyes, but it is my sun and is of my own making.” Juhan Kuus

“Don’t expect to see pretty pictures.” Juhan Kuus

“My work is not art, it’s a f***ing photograph.” Juhan Kuus

“I’m a bit of an untouchable. I don’t mind being on the outside looking in, I’m used to it, but I just wish they wouldn’t ignore the work.” Juhan Kuus

“When I was younger, I used to thrive on the adrenaline; now, I’m trying to find more meaning in what I shoot.” Juhan Kuus


Juhan Kuus
Until March 30th, 2024
Bonne Espérance Gallery
3 rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle
75002 Paris

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