“Mother And Child” by Ilia Mark Starkovsky

In 1970, in my early twenties I was travelling South Africa to visit this beautiful country, its animal life, and natural wonders – this was to be a young and budding photographer’s dream.

I was on a rickety old bus trip to visit the Northern national parks when the bus happened to pass a small village and slowed down to a stop. The bus was immediately surrounded by the local people, and being one of only a few westerners on the bus I created quite a stir (this was 50 years ago), children and mothers with babes tried to catch our attention.

This was happening at the height of apartheid and I remember wandering the streets of Durban feeling very uncomfortable especially with a large camera around my neck and seeing park benches and doorways to municipal buildings and stores with signs reading “This Entry Whites Only.” Being quite young and naive to the political circumstances that were imposed to the national people of this land, I was made painfully aware of the injustice which permeated throughout my short stay as a tourist. These were the times of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration and apartheid was a taboo subject not to be discussed, especially with a young tourist.

Back to my photograph.

The bus stopped on the main road on the outskirts of a shanty town and a few mothers approached the open windows holding their outstretched arms begging for money. This mother with a begging anguished face held her baby’s arm up, hoping that people would take more pity on her. In the spur of the moment I raised my camera and captured this shot, it was the only photograph I managed to take before the bus lurched forward to continue on our way. Looking back through the window I could see the shanty huts, the dejection and squalor those people had to live in.

This brief episode during my short stay in South Africa left a lasting impression on me on the intolerance of racial discrimination.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

The spontaneous capture of a fleeting moment, black and white inherent grain from an original 35mm film, the composition, and the gritty mood.

If you would be able to make this photo once again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

The possibility of a candid event like this could never present itself again (I am thinking of Dorothea Lang’s photo of the migrant mother) – one second later and it’s gone…

Ilia Mark Starkovsky shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


Ilia Mark Starkovsky, Beerwah, Queensland, Australia.


Equipment and Settings

Nikon F 35mm + 28mm lens, Kodak Tri-X film, developed on the HC 110 in 1970. Scan of an enlargement from an exhibition

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Comments (5):

  1. Colleen Parker

    September 8, 2020 at 02:29

    Thank you for this powerful story! I grew up in apartheid South Africa, and this was a common sight. It is an unfortunate commentary on the human race that we do not appear to have evolved much in the intervening years with respect to the value and dignity of individual human life!

    • ilia

      September 8, 2020 at 09:33

      Pity we haven’t learned, still thinking that the color of ones skin makes you superior or your beliefs are better than the next persons .
      Thanks for your nice comment Colleen

  2. Tony Harding

    September 10, 2020 at 12:17

    Yes some strong in storytelling this image

    • ilia

      September 12, 2020 at 13:47

      Thanks Tony,an experience of a lifetime

  3. Natalie Hazelxmt

    October 6, 2020 at 12:18

    Amazingly written
    Auch a powerful shot
    Well done


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