“The medium of photography in the twenty-first century could be seen as having four primary estates: "fine art, advertising, amateur photography, and journalism." (The Art of Photography , p.8) The function of photography differs greatly in each of these estates. However, it can be argued that, "In present photography, as the museum culture becomes ever more commercial (no longer the mere preserver but the active creator of culture), the relations between these once separate orders of photography become increasingly interdependent." ( The Art of Photography , p.8) There is no longer a clear line between photography as a fine art and photography as a functional art. Today we can see many photographs that would be considered fine art in advertising and journalism.
Both still place the emphasis on the exhibition value of the photograph. The images in the photographs take on new meanings with new connotations. Advertising uses these images to represent cultural fantasies and illusions. Journalism uses it to depict a historical event or to allow the world to travel to a new destination through observing photographs of it. It is the display if the image and the photograph that makes these four estates possible.”
Cloete Breytenbach embarked on his photographic career in Cape Town in 1951 on the Afrikaans-language daily, Die Burger. For the better part of the next ten years, he worked as a news photographer on various South African publications before departing for the far-off city skylines of London (The Daily Express) and Europe (on assignment for news magazines including Paris Match and Bunte).
Upon his return to South Africa, Cloete established a photo agency with fellow photographers to supply both local and international publications with images covering major events from the African continent and the world. These photo stories included the ground-breaking first heart transplant for Lifein 1967 and conflict coverage from across Africa, including Angola, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Mozambique, Congo and South Africa.
Notable assignments included the Yom Kippur War in Israel in 1973, Vietnam in 1975, Angola from 1976 to 1981, the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign and RENAMO resistance in Mozambique.
Cloete has held photographic exhibitions in South Africa, the USA, Europe and Japan, and a collection of his images of Albert Luthuli are held in the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
His work has also graced the pages of various books, including Vers en Foto, Wine Country, The Complete Book of South African Wine, Cape Town – The Fairest Cape and The Terror Fighters – Portuguese War in Angola. He has also published work of his own, including Unita in Angola, Namibia – Birth of a Nation, Savimbi’s Angola, The Zulu Nation and The Spirit of District Six(6 editions).
Breytenbach is currently producing documentaries for television. These include South Africans Working in Israel, Dancing with Death – Violence in South Africa, The History of Robben Island, Goree Island, Dakar and Bemagtiging Deur Afrikaans.