Born in Utrecht, Kwa Zulu Natal, he came to Johannesburg as a young boy and lived in Alexander township and Evaton and finally Soweto. From an early age Alf had a love for drawing and being a perfectionist. These two elements combined and like many others he started as a street photographer. While he worked as a clerk in a company as a young man, he plied his trade as a freelance photographer in his spare time. Alf was largely self-taught learning his trade by reading and learning from others. He got his break at Drum in 1952 when he was asked to write stories as well. As he recollected, “And thus began a successful long career during which I have won many awards, met amazing people, and never lost my passion for what I do best – take pictures.”
Alf Kumalo went on to become one of South Africa’s most renowned and accomplished photojournalists. He bore witness and was a participant in the drama, events and history that unfolded over a fifty year period. “Through his lens, we relive the bloody uprisings, and the individual acts of heroism, moments of indescribable heartache or joyous achievement.” (Alf Kumalo, Through My Lens)
He worked for a number of key magazines and newspapers for most of his life. As someone from the community, he had access to and recorded special relationships with politicians, musicians and celebrities. Alf also photographed the boxer, Mohamed Ali, with whom he developed a close relationship with him and became his friend. In the States, his love for jazz drew him to the music scene. Here he also connected and developed close friendships with some of the jazz legends of the time – Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.