Ernest Cole: House of Bondage 

Fri 14 Jun 2024 - Sun 22 Sep 2024

Opening Friday!
This exhibition revisits South African photographer Ernest Cole’s ground-breaking project House of Bondage, one of the most significant photobooks of the twentieth century.

Black and white photograph showing a railway station platform in rush hour with crowds of Black people in the background tightly cramped together while a few white people stand on the almost empty platform, showing the reality of apartheid

Ernest Cole: House of Bondage 

Fri 14 Jun 2024 - Sun 22 Sep 2024

Opening Friday!
This exhibition revisits South African photographer Ernest Cole’s ground-breaking project House of Bondage, one of the most significant photobooks of the twentieth century.

It is an extraordinary experience to live as though life were a punishment for being black.

Ernest Cole

South African photographer Ernest Cole (1940–1990) is considered one of the most important chroniclers of apartheid politics. 

This substantial exhibition revisits Cole’s ground-breaking project House of Bondage.

In 1966 Cole fled South Africa and smuggled out his photographs, settling in New York. House of Bondage was published in 1967 and revealed the brutality and injustice of apartheid to the world, vividly documenting the everyday life of the Black population in South Africa. It became one of the most significant photobooks of the twentieth century.  

In more than 100 photographs, the exhibition covers all 15 thematic chapters into which Cole has divided House of Bondage and also includes works from the chapter Black Ingenuity, which was not published in the original edition of the book. 

Black and white photograph of a group of men waiting

Pensive tribesmen, newly recruited to mine labour, awaiting processing and assignment, South Africa, 1960s. © Ernest Cole / Magnum Photos

Exhibition realised in collaboration with Magnum Photos. Curated by Anne-Marie Beckmann and Andrea Holzherr and adapted for The Photographers’ Gallery by Karen McQuaid, Senior Curator.

Supported by Cockayne Grants for the Arts, a donor advised fund held at The London Community Foundation.

This exhibition has potentially triggering content including nudity, depictions of violence, and other sensitive matter. Please email for further information, or speak to a member of staff.

Image of book cover of House of Bondage by Ernest Cole

Buy the book

Re-published nearly fifty-five years after the original book, this 2022 edition retains the powerful story of the original House of Bondage and features the previously unpublished chapter 'Black Ingenuity' of never-before-seen photographs of Black creative expression and cultural activity under apartheid.

Buy now
Colour photograph of two children with a woman standing behind them carrying the flag of the United States of America

Ernest Cole: A Lens in Exile at Autograph

Explore more of Ernest Cole's work in Ernest Cole: A Lens in Exile at Autograph. The first exhibition of Cole's photographs documenting New York City during the height of the civil rights movement in America. 13 June - 12 October 2024 autograph.org.uk Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street / Old Street.

Image: Ernest Cole, Religious and patriotic family [detail]. Harlem, New York, circa 1970. © Ernest Cole / Magnum Photos