Jansje Wissema and her South African Cow Parsley Photogram

Years ago, before I had nurtured my own interest in photography, we had a family friend who was a photographer. She was Jansje Wissema and regrettably she died in the 1972 (I think) before I could really get to know her.  She produced some fine images of my family in between doing her District Six work for the South African Institute of Architects (more about that later maybe) and the medical work that paid the rent.

Her image of my brother Adi sitting in a chair in front of the huge 8 sheet Steinlen Lithograph poster (Steinlen is more famous for his cat posters) that used to hang in our dark sitting room, remains one of my favourite pictures.  I have tried persuade the curator of photographs at the SA National Gallery to sell me a print but they remain steadfastly reluctant to consider the idea. The SANG now own all of her negs so I can’t argue the case and so I have to make do with the little print she gave us at the time. Her work has a respect for humanity that I think in these days of image proliferation is sometimes hard to find.


I also have a vivid memory of being fascinated my one of her Christmas Cards that was made from a photogram of a head of Agapanthus.  It is particularly interesting now, in that photograms are really a product of the analogue era and are not easy to produce nowadays.

Many years later, though still in the days that I had a functioning darkroom (rather than a loft full of it’s contents!), I used some Cow Parsley, Agapanthus not being easily available in the UK, to produce my own version of her card that had something of the feel of her original.


She remains a source of inspiration for me both in terms of photographing architecture and portraiture.

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