Building a White Nation

Propaganda, Photography, and the Apartheid Regime Between the Late 1940s and the Mid-1970s

Katharina Jörder

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A unique study of South African propaganda photography during apartheid.

Throughout the apartheid era, South Africa maintained a wide-reaching propaganda apparatus. At its core was the information service that strongly capitalised on photography to visually articulate the minority regime’s racist political messages, promote Afrikaner nationalism, and consolidate White rule. By unearthing a substantial corpus of photographs that so far have been hidden in archives, this book offers a distinctive perspective on the institutional context of the regime’s photographic production and how it was tightly linked to the objective to build a White nation. Through scrutiny of the photographic material’s iconographies, its circulation in printed matters, and a comparison with works by photographers like Margaret Bourke-White, Ernest Cole, and David Goldblatt, readers gain fresh insight into the country’s visual culture of the period. Based on the ambiguity of photographs, the monograph challenges the alleged dichotomy between so-called pro- and anti-apartheid photographies, highlighting how the regime was able to position photographs in the grey area of inconspicuousness.

By blending photo theory and art historical analysis with historical studies, Building a White Nation will appeal to scholars and postgraduate students in cultural studies interested in photo history and theory, visual culture and art history, African studies, South African photography, Afrikaner nationalism, propaganda studies, postcolonial studies, and archive theory.

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

Format: Monograph - free ebook - PDF

330 pages

18 pp. in colour

ISBN: 9789461665263

Publication: December 15, 2023

Languages: English

Katharina Jörder is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer of Art History at Freie Universität Berlin. Her work focuses on histories of photography, African photography, and visual culture.

This book makes a distinctive contribution to the literature on photography and propaganda, African and specifically apartheid visual cultures, and ideas of nation and whiteness. It provides a detailed and multifaceted case study of the information service through from the founding of the apartheid regime through until the mid-1970s. In a context where there is a deepening of photo-historical research on African photographies, by state and non-state actors, this study fits well with current work in the field.

Darren Newbury, The University of Brighton


This is an important piece of research on a topic that has, ironically, been neglected in recent histories of South African photography. The author’s engagement with the topic brings a sense of complexity to a series of influencing factors that could otherwise have been very simplistically treated. Instead, the author has sought to bring a sense of complexity to an argument about the intersection of photography, propaganda, and apartheid state making. Rory Bester, University of the Western Cape