Using a Pentax camera with 35mm focal-length lens, Billy Monk photographed the nightclub revellers and sold the prints to his subjects. His close and long friendships with many of the people in the images allowed him to photograph them with extraordinary intimacy in all their states of joy and sadness. His images of nightlife seem carefree and far away from the scars and segregation of apartheid that fractured this society in the daylight.

In 1969 Monk stopped taking photographs at the club. Ten years later his contact sheets and negatives were discovered in a studio by Jac de Villiers who recognised the significance of his work. He arranged a first exhibition of the work in 1982 at the Market Gallery in Johannesburg. Monk could not make the opening and two weeks later, en route to seeing the exhibition, he was tragically shot dead in a fight and never saw his exhibition. Recently De Villiers revisited Monk’s contact sheets and curated the exhibition of the classic images along with some that have not been shown before.

Since the images were first seen in 1982, they have been critically acclaimed and celebrated on the rare occasions that they have been shown. The images raise the question why they continue to resonate so strongly with viewers 40 years later, and it is perhaps because of the remarkable pathos and empathy Billy Monk had for his subjects, regardless of their disposition, circumstances and transgressions.

(via Michael Stevenson)

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