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Steve Hilton-Barber. A straight shooter who died of a heart attack at age 39 (the 24th May 2002), was one of the most adventurous of South Africa's younger generation of photographers. His work ranged from news photography during this country's unrest years to portraiture, wildlife, music photography and work in the commercial realm. Most recently, he was the official photographer for the Idols reality-television show.
His 1990 photo-essay on a Northern Sotho initiation ceremony engendered much debate. With this series Hilton-Barber challenged the taboo of secrecy around such ceremonies, as well as that around the depiction of the male nude in the South African press - and issues of the relation of power between photographer and subject. Amid the controversy the photographs were stolen from the walls of the Market Theatre's gallery. The aesthetic value of the images, however, was unquestioned.
The scion of a farming family, and one of several siblings to distinguish himself in the media, Hilton-Barber was' a founding member of the Afrapix and Southlight photo agencies. He worked for the Saturday Star in 1992 and was the chief photographer on the Mail & Guardian in 1993 and 1994. He subsequently worked as a freelancer, and earlier this year once again found himself involved in controversy when several of his 'funky" images were removed from a show commissioned by Nedbank.
Hilton-Barber is survived by his wife Monica and infant Benjamin.
"Steve always sought out contradictions in life," said his brother Brett Hilton-Barber. "He seemed to be drawn to the zaniness, the black humour, in life. "He was a fun-loving, engaging person with enthusiastic appetites; a man who, as his friend Michael Markovitz; put it, "thought crooked and shot straight".
- by Shaun de Waal - Mail & Guardian 31st May 2002