Billy Monk


Nightclub Photographs

1 March - 9 April 2011

Michael Stevenson is pleased to present a selection of 47 images by the legendary photographer Billy Monk taken in Cape Town nightclubs in 1967-9.

The unusual narrative of his life and work has often been related and embellished upon, and has become entwined with our perceptions of the images. In essence, he was born in 1937, and worked as a nightclub bouncer for Les Catacombs Club in Cape Town in the late 1960s when he was around 30 years of age. He later moved to the West Coast and lived in Port Nolloth periodically until his death in 1982.

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.

This exhibition will be the first time that editioned silver gelatin hand-prints of his work will be offered for sale. Jac de Villiers and the Estate of Billy Monk have produced the images in an edition of 12. A book will be published later this year.

A selection of these images was recently exhibited at the Brighton Photo Biennale 2010, curated by Martin Parr.

Concurrent exhibitions are by Deborah Poynton and Rineke Dijkstra. The exhibitions open on Tuesday 1 March, 6-8pm.

Jac de Villiers and curator Federica Angelucci will give a walkabout of the exhibition for the Friends of the National Gallery on Friday 18 March at 11am; cost is R20 (members and non-members).

The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.