Ernest Cole’s House of Bondage, the United States Information Agency and the cultural politics of race in the Cold War

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This chapter positions Ernest Cole’s photographs of apartheid South Africa, published in exile as the book House of Bondage, in relation to the global political forces that shaped their production, movement and interpretation during the Cold War. A searing record of South Africa’s uniquely oppressive racist regime, Cole’s photographic images of life under apartheid must, at the same time, be figured within a Cold War visual economy, a global politics of representation, within which the representation of race was a significant dimension. The chapter follows two lines of enquiry. First, it examines Cole’s interactions with the United States Information Agency (USIA), an arm of US Cold War public diplomacy better known for its sponsorship of Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition, via their offices in Johannesburg in the period immediately prior to his exile. Second, it turns attention to Cole’s arrival in New York in the late 1960s, which brought his photographs of racial oppression in South Africa into a complex relationship with visual narratives of race, dominated by images of African-Americans during a period of racial tension and the struggle for civil rights. It asks what it meant to read House of Bondage in the Cold War. In conclusion, the chapter reflects on Cole’s fate and that of his photographs in the period following his arrival in the US.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCold War Camera
EditorsErina Duganne, Andrea Noble, Thy Phu
Place of PublicationDurham
PublisherDuke University Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Print)9781478018599, 9781478015956
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2023


  • Ernest Cole
  • Photography
  • South Africa
  • United States
  • Cold War
  • Race


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