Jodi Windvogel speaks about her neighbourhood Maitland in Cape Town with great fondness. After graduating from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, traveling as far as The Caribbeans to capture portraits she also worked for publications like the Cape Argus and Cape Times. While she currently works as a photographer for Beautiful News, a digital platform sharing positive stories about South Africans, throughout her work she uses her camera to find moments that break the stereotype of what it means to be coloured. Over FaceTime, we discuss how her photography has helped preserve Maitland’s history on the tail of gentrification, while reshaping the way the coloured community is perceived in stills.
Only becoming serious about her camera at 19, six years ago, Jodi recalls being inspired by photographers of international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos, like Henri Cartier Bresson, Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey and Robert Capa. “I don’t really think it was a particular image that made me want to be a photographer but rather a combination of things — my curiosity — that drove me to take photographs. I always had difficulty expressing myself with words so photography helped me,” she explains.
Choosing the places and people she is familiar with to capture on film, most of her photographs are of family and friends in her neighbourhood and other marginalised neighbourhoods in Cape Town. “Photography has a lot to do with connection, so I’m drawn to the subjects I photograph. It’s intuitive and emotive because I’m looking for something personal and private. It’s about honesty really; when we photograph the things closest to us, there’s a degree of empathy that comes through that’s always been important to me.”
She describes Maitland as a neighbourhood people often don’t know, on the one hand its industrial with “a shit load of factories” and on the other it’s the houses that make it home. By understanding the nuances of growing up in Maitland, Jodi is creating a more accurate representation.
“I would like to instill a sense of worth and restore their dignity.” Expressing her frustration at the singular narrative coloured people are portrayed in, Jodi hopes to break those images. “The iconography of coloured people has always been disfigured and marred — it’s either as gangsters, drug addicts, beggars on the street or the narrative is reformed, a reformed gangster or reformed criminal.”
The debate around the photographer’s gaze is a tightrope. “I think we should have freedom to take photos of what we want but capitalising on poverty and injustice is something that shouldn’t happen. People of colour are always reminded of their inferiority and it degrades their humanity,” she says.
“Photographs seem drawn to the sadness that people of colour experience and often go into neighbourhoods and capitalise on it — that is a privilege that isn’t spoken about. They take these images and put them in galleries where the people who they took photos of often don’t get to see them. I ask, who are the photographs for? It’s a question I’m still trying to educate myself on.”
As much as Jodi’s work is serious it also captures a playful innocence, remnant of childhood. Reflecting on it, she says, “It’s trying to break down that stereotype of words connected to coloured; when people look at my images, I don’t want them to think gangster or poverty or injustice, I want them to think that’s a brother, or a mother or a sister. I want them to see people.”
Currently working on a project to create a clear narrative of the changes Maitland has gone through, by doing so she wants to topple the perspective about coloured people into a more positive one. This has unintentionally led to illustrating spatial segregation post-apartheid together with the visual aspect of economic segregation in the process.
“It still defines the reality of residents who live in these places. Until interrogation happens, until people of colour have access to land, the quality of life will remain the same. The gentrification around the city is everywhere — you don’t even need statistics,” she says. “People don’t know what gentrification is. It’s not just inserting a building; by doing that and placing all these ‘cute’ cafes there the price of housing increases for everyone. I don’t know enough about it but I want to know more. I need to document the change.”
See more of Jodi’s images.