The Eternal Scholar
A lifetime resident of Cape Town, Arnold Castle (1932 – 2020) photographed South African residents and landscapes for over 40 years. A self-taught master of the craft, Arnold first picked up a camera in the early 1970’s to shoot a fashion catalogue for his family-owned, clothing manufacturing business. Encouraged by his neighbour, he quickly developed a passion for the medium, joining the Cape Town Photographic Society whilst simultaneously learning the techniques of darkroom photography.
By the late 1970’s, Arnold was shooting and developing dramatic black and white landscapes in his own darkroom. He was soon drawn to portraiture and added a studio to his photographic setup. Working primarily with a square format (6x6) Hasselblad, he sought out interesting people, who would be willing to sit for portraits in his home studio. From local personalities to people on the fringe of society, Arnold photographed a wide range of subjects, often using the simplest of backgrounds to create dynamic and intimate imagery. He was also known for his fabricated “character sketches”, created through the use of props and photographic storytelling. Coupled with his immaculate attention to detail in both shooting and editing, Arnold’s images remain as relevant and intimate as the milieus in which they were shot.
In 1978 Arnold achieved an Associateship (APSSA) in monochrome prints at the Cape Town Photographic Society and five years later, a Fellowship (FPSSA) followed - an accolade only ever bestowed on very few other photographers in the Cape.
Awards soon followed including an International Gold Medal for The Eternal Scholar which transformed a local glass-grinding craftsman into a learned rabbi pouring over an ancient text. Two exhibitions followed as well as a number of accolades in the field.
This exhibition of Arnold Castle’s photography - The Eternal Scholar - offered a unique historical perspective. The exhibition consisted primarily of intimate and diverse character portraits taken during the 1970’s. It presented a wide-ranging historical representation of South African personalities - from a well-known Flamenco dancer and an ex-Miss South Africa runner up, to people on the fringes of society. In a culture so obsessed with instant image production, Arnold Castle’s work harks back to a time in photographic history where a critical eye and expert technical know-how was fundamental to the art of authentic image-making.