Photojournalist Margaret Courtney-Clarke was born and raised on a ranch on the edge of the Namib Desert in Namibia. Her playmates were Africa’s children. They taught her to read the earth and the sky and to understand the habits of wild animals in that particular corner of the world.


Because of her upbringing, Courtney-Clarke has an innate love of the land and an instinctive understanding of those who live close to the earth. And perhaps more importantly from the perspective of her work, her African childhood also instilled in her a deep respect for the creative manifestations of the people of Africa especially as reflected in their dress, architecture and decoration.

As a child and adolescent, Courtney-Clarke was equally at ease in the Victorian colonial home of her grandfather who was the head of the civil service of South West Africa, (at that time a mandated territory of the League of Nations) as she was in the mud homes of her African playmates. She absorbed a cultural flexibility that has served her through the 30 years since she left Namibia.

It is this cultural flexibility that makes her work unique. Her photographic essays and books reflect an extraordinary blend of sophisticated European and ancient African cultures.


With a diploma in art and photography from Natal College in South Africa, Courtney-Clarke left Africa for Europe in 1972. Her first stop in Europe was Italy where her love for art, architecture and photography was nurtured and enriched. Soon after her arrival in Italy, she started working at the renowned Obelisco Gallery in Rome that specialized in contemporary art and photography. While there, she began to develop a career as a photojournalist, focusing on art and architecture. Her photographs appeared in many prestigious American, European and African publications. During this time she also established a home in New York and obtained a B. A. in Photojournalism from New York University.


Courtney-Clarke is an intensely practical person, for all her absorption in aesthetics, and it is this quality that enabled her to record in photographs the remote, seldom seen traditions of rural art, as well as the elaborate urban achievements of European peoples.


In the 1981 volume, Cape Dutch Homesteads (Struik), she teamed up with South African photographer David Goldblatt to memorialize the magnificent gabled homes unique to the southern tip of Africa, living with the owners so that homes could be seen in all lights and all aspects. Then, with this rare flexibility, she turned an equally intense focus on the homes of the Ndebele people of Southern Africa. Travelling thousand of miles to find the remote poverty-stricken villages where the traditional mural painting still survived, she achieved a similar level of trust and intimacy with the home-owners.


Her book Ndebele: The Art of an African Tribe (Rizzoli 1986) has been acclaimed in the USA, in Europe, Japan and in Africa itself. This book not only conveyed the glory of the work but also did what so few authors or photographers of African art have ever done – it acknowledged the women who were responsible for it. Courtney-Clarke gave these women personal recognition. She lived with them while photographing them and became their friend. She meticulously recorded their names and their art so that the book became not only a tribute to the visual beauty but also – without heavy-handed anthropological analysis – a tribute to a group of people who have endured ethnic, political and educational neglect.


Her second book in the series on women and their art, African Canvas (Rizzoli 1990), turns a spotlight of equal intensity on the women of West Africa, recording their traditional mural art. Photographed over three years, it called for an almost reckless dedication, leading Courtney-Clarke on journey after journey, in remote reaches where few Western travelers have ever penetrated. She endured hardship, disease and endless struggles with transport and communication problems, to seek out the gems of this vanishing art. And she did it with the same profound respect for the people involved that marked the Ndebele book, waiting days and weeks and months to win their trust and be welcomed into the intimacy of their homes and lifestyle.


In the third book of her trilogy on African women, IMAZIGHEN: The Vanishing Traditions of Berber Women, (Clarkson Potter 1996) Courtney-Clarke examines the difficult lives and remarkable arts of Berber women as they yield to the pressures of the twentieth century.


These award-winning books have been translated into French, German and Italian and have generated worldwide interest in these vanishing arts. Her work has inspired films, including CBC and BBC documentaries on her and her photography; fashion and fabric designs; porcelain designs; the African village at Dallas Zoo and numerous other creative pieces.


Her photographs have been exhibited on five continents and have been featured  on the covers of countless magazines – And her work has been acquired by private collectors, Galleries and Museums.


In 1994 America’s favorite poet Maya Angelou joined photojournalist Courtney-Clarke to introduce children and their cultures from around the world in a series of juvenile books; My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me (Clarkson Potter, 1994) and Kofi and His Magic (Clarkson Potter, 1996) are the first two titles in this series – both award winning books.

In Places in the Sand (Monacelli Press, N.Y. 1997) Courtney-Clarke turns a nostalgic and knowing eye to the landscape, creating evocative slivers of panoramas in which memories of her childhood are resurrected into timelessness.


Released in December 1999, Courtney-Clarke’s long-awaited book Maya Angelou: The Poetry of Living, offers a tribute through revealing portraits and interviews of the Poet Laureate and friend who has influenced her life as well as the lives of millions around the world.


For the past two years Courtney-Clarke has devoted her time to the Ndebele Foundation, fundraising and building a Cultural Center for Women and Children.


When she is not in the U.S. or travelling in Africa and Europe, Courtney-Clarke retreats to her home in the country north of Rome.


Tel: (0761) 28. 98. 73

Fax: (0761) 28. 79. 58