Whether she is documenting the lives of people from forgotten and marginalised communities, portraying celebrities, going through a personal journey, or reporting on a collective tragedy, Jillian Edelstein’s photography is always engaged, ethical, and brave; her approach is honest, hopeful, graceful, and unmistakable. Jillian was born in Cape Town and started her career working as a press photographer. In the eighties she moved to London, where she is currently based, to study photojournalism. Her portraits have been featured in many major international publications, from the The New York Times Magazine to Vogue, and her work has been recognised and exhibited worldwide.
In 1997, Jillian embarked on a very significant project documenting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Having grown up in an apartheid country, and perhaps regardless, this was also a personal journey. Jillian’s book Truth and Lies, published in 2002, won the John Kobal Book Award. It represents a unique visual account of both the victims’ and the offenders’ stories. The most striking thing about Jillian’s work is the overlap between personal stories – her own, and the stories of others. She has received several international awards including the Kodak UK Young Photographer of the Year, Photographers’ Gallery Portrait Photographer of the Year Award, the Visa d’Or at the International Festival of Photojournalismand most recently the Abstract Award in the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards 2020.
Alongside numerous personal projects, such as Affinities and Sangoma, she has worked on campaigns for Oxfam, FXB International, UNICEF and National Theatre, among others, and directed a film documentary about the screenwriter Norman Wexler. Jillian’s work is an exceptional attempt to investigate and witness the complexity of migration and displacement, justice and forgiveness, inequality and poverty, and memory and loss through the lens of empathy, determination, and compassion. She gives voices to people who don’t have one and reveals the faces of those who are often invisible, simultaneously telling a part of our stories.
By Mariasanta Tedesco (Instagram: @mariasantatedesco)