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Update: Main Road Chronicles by Guy Neveling and Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

 

Main Road, Cape Town is long and diverse – starting in the city, winding through some grungy parts followed by leafy suburbs and lastly, making its way onto the coastal stretch of Cape Point. Guy Neveling and Paul Cocks have been walking this characterful stretch since 2013, sometimes together but mostly alone, with no brief but to come back with interesting photographs after an interesting day.

 

“The seed was planted over 10 years ago when a good friend and photographer, Mike Story, told me about an idea he had to walk the entire Peninsula in 5 days, spending the evenings in local hotels along the way,” says Guy. “We eventually decided to try it out mid-2013 but nobody could really commit to a 5 to 7 day timing plan. Eventually in September last year four of us (we extended the invite to a number of locally based photographers) took the first steps and walked for a day. It then whittled down to just Paul and myself who have been walking since.” The results of this are catalogued as Main Road Chronicles, an ongoing photography project which we first featured on the site early this year. Here, we spoke with Guy and Paul about how the project has progressed since.

 

With Main Road as the primary subject, you’ve visited this stretch repeatedly for the duration of the project so far. Is it challenging spotting new scenes to photograph, or seeing the same ones with fresh eyes, each time you’ve been there?

 

Guy: It’s no challenge at all as every day I step outside I see something new that may have been missed previously – whether it was not there before, or the time of day was different making the light fall from another direction, there’s always something new to see. There’s also the interaction with strangers along the way, besides some of the shop owners we are getting to know, it’s impossible to keep bumping into the same people each time.

 

Paul: I think it is always a challenge when photographing something that you are familiar with. In the case of Main Road, for me, a lot of the scenes were typical of many South African streets and the challenge was always trying to find inspiration in something you had seen a thousand times. Some days you walk and you feel inspired and see shots all over the place and others you just feel completely fried. So getting the motivation to get out there again time after time is a major challenge.

 

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

 

What are the other challenges to keeping a personal project like this going?

 

Guy: Sometimes the motivation to get out on the road and face the bustle is not terribly high, the shots aren’t coming, I start wondering what the hell am I doing out here and worst of all the doubt starts creeping in. I try to get one shot, if I crack one shot I’m happy. Normally after getting the first shot the rest of the day starts slipping into place. Energy begets energy.

 

Paul: I think sometimes the hardest part of keeping a project like this going is to go shoot when you are feeling completely uninspired. Not only uninspired in your subject matter but also uninspired with how you are shooting it and the images you are producing. There are times where you feel like everything you are shooting is cliché or boring or just trash and you have to learn to push through those times.

 

How has this project impacted or benefit your broader photography practice?

 

Guy: Working in street photography takes me out of my comfort zone, though I’m still hiding behind the camera. It’s completely different to an organised shoot where everything is pre-produced and so nailed down by the time a lens cap comes off. Street photography is by far the hardest genre, anything goes and everything is subjective, getting to that one absolute magic shot is near impossible most of the time, or it could just be me that’s never happy and always thinking the next one must be better. Personally, being somewhat of an introvert, getting out there and working like this is a constant challenge and learning curve.

 

Paul: I have never really worked on an extended project like this so that has been a great learning experience for me. Seeing the project evolve and grow and slowly seeing a body of work come together has taught me to be a bit more patient with my projects. Sometimes you come up with an idea for a project and you just want to race out there and get it done, but most times it is a very slow process and often the success lies in how patient you are.

 

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

 

Have you noticed any shifts in your approach over the past year or so? What role has Main Road Chronicles played in this?

 

Guy: Not really, each day is different, sometimes when I’m feeling a tad insecure I go for a ‘still life’ or landscape approach to Main Road or that’s all I really see, and the next time I have a more people-orientated session because I’m more receptive and I think people pick up on that. The secret truly is to smile, smiling disarms any negative confrontation on the street.

 

If anything I think I may have come full circle as I started out in the press, carrying a camera like this and hunting for pictures is reminiscent of the times spent covering news events and hustling for the best angle.

 

Paul: As a photographer no matter what I am shooting I am constantly trying to evolve and grow in my craft. I don’t think that I have really changed my approach that much but I have definitely started looking at longer term projects a lot more and focussing on building larger bodies of work that deal with specific themes instead of just single images all the time. This was a direction I knew I wanted to head in before the Main Road project began, but I think that it provided the opportunity to start to think and work this way.

 

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

 

Looking at this body of work, is there a particular image (or story behind an image) that stands out for you?

 

Guy: There’s a standing joke now with me and schools, and I think it’s quite sad. I truly love shooting animals and kids, the results are always amazing and mostly surprising, one gets more then you bargained for. On a few occasions now I’ve been chased away from pointing my camera at kids playing. Now whenever I find myself walking past a school yard I break out into a mild panic and move along swiftly, and while I totally get why this is I still think it’s really crappy that we have become this paranoid society.

 

I was walking past a high wall in Lakeside a while back when suddenly this kid blasted over the top on his swing and then disappeared. I watched this guy appear and disappear behind the wall for a few minutes before I pulled the camera out. When he saw I was trying to get a shot he started to really push himself harder and higher till eventually he was virtually upside down, he was having huge fun. After a few minutes an adult popped her head over the wall and told me to piss off and in doing so spoilt the opportunity for a shot I’m sure the guy would have loved to have had. When I was that age there were always total strangers with cameras hanging about the skate parks, we loved it as it meant free pictures.

 

But I know what it must look like to the general public, an adult male with a camera walking around the streets in the week during working hours taking pictures of kids, it’s the perfect disaster really.

 

Paul: The guys on the back of the truck sticks out for me. I tried to get a shot of them relaxing on the back of the truck without them noticing me, but failed horribly, so I walked up to them to have a chat. As with many people we meet along Main Road they asked if I was from a newspaper. I told them I wasn’t. Looking very confused, one of the guys then asked if someone was paying me to take pictures. Again I replied no. By now they were looking at me with a mixture of confusion, suspicion and surprise. Then one of the guys asked me why I would waste my time walking up and down taking pictures if no-one was going to pay me to do it? All I could think of was to ask him if he played soccer and when he replied yes, I asked him if anyone paid him to play, to which the answer was no. You see, we both do things we love for free. He laughed reservedly and allowed me 5 more minutes to snap the shot.

 

What has been the most rewarding outcome of the project so far?

 

Guy: I think when I initially posted the first 6 shots and made the blog public, I was so excited I couldn’t stop looking at it. It felt like opening a brand new photo book and wanting to wear gloves so as not to put finger prints all over it. It was also a huge compliment when the folk at Jameson whiskey invited us to be a part of their ‘Day in the life’ series.

 

Paul: For me so far the most rewarding part has been seeing the project grow over the last year, and second to that is the positive response that we have received from people who have seen the project. Getting people to like a project is never really the primary objective but I do think you want a project to engage or connect with your viewer otherwise your story is lost.

 

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

 

This is quite subjective but what, in your mind, makes a great street photograph?

 

Guy: Yes it is subjective, for me any photograph, painting, film or piece of music, if it doesn’t give me that tingly feeling in my gut then it’s failed and no amount of explanations or funky titles are going to save it. It’s extremely hard to get there. I think I may have a great shot if I still like it in the morning. If I still like it in 6 months then I have a keeper. The wastebasket is always full.

 

Paul: For me any great photograph first and foremost makes you feel something. Whether it is the subject matter, composition or lighting. Something about it connects with you and pulls you in. That’s why it is so subjective because different people connect with images in different ways.

 

Is Main Road Chronicles something that you plan to carry on indefinitely, even if it changes forms going forward?

 

Guy: I think it could be a great thing to keep open for something to come back to serve as a break from other projects. I find it quite therapeutic ambling along looking at everything and prattling on with total strangers. The short term goal is to have 20 cracker shots each for printing and hanging somewhere, once we get that we’ll see what the future holds for Main Road. I have my favourite stretches that I have been walking on before this project started so I will carry on doing that. I also want to try do this all over again but with moving images, not sure how just yet but that’s what’s ticking over in my head.

 

Paul: I haven’t really thought about it much to be honest. Although I do feel that for me it has a limited lifespan and that soon it will be time to move on to something new and maybe revisit it again in a few years, but for now I am kind of just taking it day by day.

 

What else are you working on at the moment?

 

Guy: I’ll be spending 5 weeks, again ambling, up the Amazon River from the mouth in Brazil up to Peru if all goes to plan. Depends on how much I can endure the mosquitos.

 

Paul: At the moment I have been fairly busy with commercial work shooting a lot of portraiture based stuff and getting to meet some really inspiring people which has been great. I also have a few projects in the pipeline that I am researching and writing proposals for which is an entirely new experience for me, but at the same time an exciting one as they involve subjects that I am really passionate about.

 

www.main-road.tumblr.com

 

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

Guy Neveling

Guy Neveling

Paul Cocks

Paul Cocks

 



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