Magnum Photos Photographer Profile

Mikhael Subotzky 

South African, b. 1981 (Member) 


Mikhael Subotzky was born in 1981 in Cape Town, South Africa, and is currently based in Johannesburg.

Mikhael Subotzky’s works are the results of his fractured attempts to place himself in relation to the social, historical, and political narratives that surround him both at home in South Africa and on his frequent travels. Executed in a variety of mediums - from photographs to film and video installations, and more recently collages, drawings and paintings - these works have been widely exhibited and collected.

Subotzky’s photographic practice combines the directness of the social documentary mode with a questioning of the nature of the photographic medium itself. He is concerned with the structures of narrative and representation, as well as the relationship between social storytelling and the formal poetics of image making.

His first monograph, Beaufort West, was published by Chris Boot Publishers and was the subject of the 2008 exhibition, New Photography: Josephine Meckseper and Mikhael Subotzky at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Retinal Shift (Steidl, 2012) was published to accompany the exhibition of the same name which was produced by Subotzky on the occasion of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2012 and toured South Africa’s major museums.

A third monograph, Ponte City (Steidl, 2014) is the product of a six-year collaboration with the British artist Patrick Waterhouse. This project focuses a single 54-story building that dominates the Johannesburg skyline. The building is cast as the central character in a myriad of interweaving narratives that, through photographs, commissioned texts, historical documents, and urban myths, chart the convoluted histories of both the building and Johannesburg itself. The Ponte City exhibition consists of a single installation of thousands of photographs and documents.

Recent awards and grants include the 2015 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize for Ponte City (with Patrick Waterhouse), 2012 Standard Bank Young Artist Award - Visual Arts, Johannesburg, 2011 Discovery Award at Rencontres de la Photographie Arles, the 2009 Oskar Barnack Award, the 2008 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant, and the 2007 KLM Paul Huf Award.

Subotzky’s work has been exhibited widely in major galleries and museums, and his prints are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Modern, London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian institution), the WAlther Collection, Neu-Ulm, the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.