Born and raised in Windhoek, Karel Prinsloo is an award-winning photographer who has extensively covered conflicts and humanitarian work in Africa and the Middle East over the last 30 years.
A few years ago Karel spent a couple of weeks in Rehoboth with the aim of creating a series of images showcasing the Baster community and its individuals going about their daily lives. As descendants of European colonists and indigenous Khoi people, the Basters have an interesting history in both pre- and post-independent Namibia. Caught between cultures, neither belonging to the majority of black nor the minority of white Namibians, this community has traditionally been very close-knit in order to preserve its culture and heritage.
During German colonial times, the Basters set up their own political system, which guaranteed them the right to self-determination. While their rights were suppressed after World War I by the South African government, the Rehoboth Self-Government Act was passed in 1976 granting them autonomy, and allowing them to grow and develop. After Namibia’s independence in 1990, the Baster self-rule was abolished and Baster communal land was seized by the newly formed Namibian government.
In his project, which includes audio of individuals explaining what it means to them to be a Baster, Karel gives an insight into a community struggling to preserve their unique identity and culture. He examines the difference between a new generation growing up in an independent Namibia and an older generation who lived during the times of apartheid but also had a degree of self-determination.
Unlike most photographers, Karel became one through pure coincidence. Fresh from high school in 1991, he had set his sights on becoming a reporter at the Windhoek-based Afrikaans newspaper, Republikein. Enquiring about a post, he was told there was none, but they were looking for a photographer. With no experience in photography, and not realising at the time that this might be a fortunate stroke of serendipity, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands and started honing his skills in this new craft. Bear in mind that those were the days of film which required a lot more than simply clicking a button to produce hundreds of digital images.
He examines the difference between a new generation growing up in an independent Namibia and an older generation who lived during the times of apartheid but also had a degree of self-determination.
Inspired by the exploits of the renowned Bang Bang Club during the tumultuous early 1990s, Karel moved to South Africa where, working for Beeld, he was assigned to cover the unrest and escalating violence in townships ahead of the country’s first general elections in 1994.
Wanting more, Karel moved base again in 2001 when he took a job with Associated Press as chief photographer for East Africa. From Nairobi, Kenya, he covered multiple conflicts across the continent and further afield.
These days he freelances for various international organisations such as UNICEF, WFP, GAVI and IFAW focusing more on humanitarian issues than war. He lives in Paris, France, with his wife Beatrice.
Karel has won numerous awards including the South African Photographer of the Year as well as the second prize for news stories at the World Press Photo Awards in 2000 for his coverage of the devastating Mozambique floods. He has also been a CNN African Journalist of the year photography runner-up. Karel’s photos have appeared in all the world’s major publications including the New York Times, Time magazine, Newsweek and Paris Match.