Jansen van Staden


After the death of my father in 2011, I discovered a letter, written to his psychotherapist, about his time in the Border War. He dedicated his life to sustainable projects and education in African countries, and what I read in the letter took me by surprise.

It was not the man I knew.

The letter detailed horrific incidents he took part in, as a 17 year old boy.

One paragraph from the letter, bothered me the most:
“…she stated that I joined and did what I did, because I wanted to kill people. It is truer than true.”

Questions started harassing me. How was he raised? What influence did the apartheid regime and it’s ideologies, have on the family? What circumstances could lead a 17 year old boy, to have such murderous intent? Where does all this violence stem from?

Through this journey, I discovered just how much my life has been influenced by my fathers’ trauma. How my fathers’ siblings are still affected by the ideologies of their father. Generations of trauma, ignorantly passed on, even through our genes. It is said, that my generation, is the first of South Africans not to experience war. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to observe all this within ourselves. To ensure that it does not continue.
After the war, my father turned against everything the knew. He left his father, and family. He craved resolve. He wanted so badly, to be free from his shadows. But the consequences of his actions haunted him his whole life. He tried his best to keep it from his children, and his wives. Ultimately, it slipped through the cracks.

Microlight is a collection of anecdotes. And through telling these stories, I hope to open this discussion. I yearn for healing. I want to understand, so that I can accept, and move on.

Microlight is merely a photographic essay.

Despite the fact that all the images are carefully carved and displayed in order to unveil, in a very sensitive and subtle progression within the story, one is struck by the story behind the images and the manner into which Jansen van Staden has managed to transform a very personal quest into a book that can be understood by anyone.

I see his project as a family and above all, a personal psychoanalysis. It is a process that combines memory and investigation. There are always things we don’t know about our parents, about our families that, at times, should remain unknown.

But despite all odds, Van Staden has decided to open Pandora because there is always a moment when knowing is better than pretending not to know. It is as if Telemaque would have embarked in the journey of trying to fill the gaps in his knowledge of his father’s life.

Ulysses had done a lot of things during his long Odysseus.

Things that a son should not necessarily be informed of but that constitute at the same time, his way out; the missing key for his own development.

Van Staden has carefully gathered the elements of a puzzle that will never be completed.

Those elements appear before our eyes as ruins, remains upon which one should try to rebuild a story of his own. With the help of fragile micro lights that could vanish at any moment. In the end, the journey was worth the pain. The story stands on its own aesthetically and, should I say, philosophically.

It shows that truth does not necessarily rhyme with reconciliation.

Maybe a posthumous forgiveness.

Simon Njami

Hard Cover
28cm x 21cm
156 pages
400 copies

45 euro shipping costs excluded