Born in Johannesburg in 1959, Gideon Mendel began his career as a news and ‘struggle’ photographer documenting the final years of apartheid. This experience marked him deeply, and much of his subsequent work has been engaged with the key political issues facing his generation.
In 1991 he moved to London, and continued to respond to global concerns, especially HIV/ AIDS.
Since 2007, using stills and video, Mendel has been working on Drowning World, an art and advocacy project about flooding that is his personal response to our climate crisis.
He has twice been shortlisted for the Prix Pictet (2015 and 2019) and has received the Jackson Pollock Prize for Creativity, the Greenpeace Photo Award, the Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography and the Amnesty International Media Award.
Freedom or Death is divided into three sections, each with a different intervention to the original images. The first section ‘Damage,’ as described above—the accidental, colorful and painterly transformation of the negatives and transparencies by mold and moisture.
The second section, ‘The Stone, the Gun and the Plate,’ is a collaboration with Marcelo Brodsky, an Argentinian artist known for his human rights activism. Brodsky writes and draws on photographs as a means of enhancing the historical narratives of images.
The final section of the book ‘Merged’ is derived from vintage working press prints from the same period. Several of the photographs were made for newswire transmission with caption information pasted onto the front of the prints, some have a variety of crop marks on their reverse sides, and others have Mendel’s hand-written captions or agency copyright labels.