“How Beautiful This Place Can Be,” the poignant title of Stuart O’Sullivan’s show of photographs from South Africa, is also the title of the Nazraeli Press book that reproduces his project as a whole. In his introduction to that book, O’Sullivan writes about growing up white and privileged in a country that, to a child, was defined by “large suburban homes with sprawling gardens and swimming pools.” Later, “when the deprivations endured by our fellow Africans began to seep into consciousness . . . normality was transformed into complexity.” O’Sullivan left South Africa more than a decade ago to pursue a career in New York, but he’s been returning annually for the past five years in an attempt to capture that complexity. He doesn’t approach the subject as a photojournalist or a sociologist but as an insider with a new perspective on the family, friends, and landscapes he presents here with measured but unapologetic affection. There’s razor wire on the garden wall and a security grate across the kitchen doorway, but anxiety is less evident than a kind of pervasive melancholy. O’Sullivan can’t go home again, but neither can he resist its seductive draw. His photos capture these conflicting emotions with a deft restraint.
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