We’ve already identified 9 young photographers with uncompromising vision, explored interpretation by looking at different portraits of the same set of local faces, and last week we compiled a visual meditation on light. Our final list as part of Photography Month is a (mostly) forward looking one focused on long-term and ongoing photographic projects – some of them have just begun, others have spanned entire photographic careers and a few are now complete.
The main reason for this focus is simply to applaud dedication, patience and other such attributes that stand out as increasingly rare in a predominantly-digital world of photography, where results can be so instantaneous. It’s not a world without major benefits, of course – allowing for a much greater freedom to experiment and learn on-the-go. However, such a fast pace doesn’t foster a desire to continually add to a growing body of work over time which can mean months, years, even decades. While getting this right is no small feat, it’s incredibly rewarding for the both photographer and those who view their work.
In a photographic series entitled Kin, Pieter Hugo meditates on the ideals of home – both familial and humanistic – to offer a bittersweet perspective on South Africa. Over the past eight years he has turned his eye on cramped townships, contested farmlands and abandoned mining areas and, alternating from public spaces to the intimate, has captured pyschologically charged still lifes in people’s homes, his pregnant wife and his daughter moments after her birth. As such, Kin explores the tenuous ties that both bind us to and repel us from others and it reveals Pieter’s deeply conflicted feelings about his home.
His artist statement states that the project is an attempt at evaluating the gap between society’s ideals and its realities. He says, “Kin is an engagement with the failure of the South African colonial experiment and my sense of being ‘colonial driftwood’…South Africa is such a fractured, schizophrenic, wounded and problematic place. It is a very violent society and the scars of colonialism and apartheid still run very deep. Issues of race and cultural custodianship permeate every aspect of society, and the legacy of forced racial segregation casts a long shadow…This work attempts to reflect on the nature of conflicting personal and collective narratives.”
Faces and Phases
“In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily,” Zanele Muholi says of her ongoing portrait series, Faces and Phases, “I embarked on a journey of visual activism to ensure that there is black queer visibility.” The project shows an insider’s perspective of the lives of the black lesbians and transmen she has met on her journey as an activist. Collectively, the portraits are both a visual statement and an archive of an often invisible community.
“Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends,” Zanele notes. It is important to mark, map and preserve our mo(ve)ments through visual histories for reference and posterity so that future generations will note that we were here. In Faces and Phases I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond.”
Starting in May 2014 with a borrowed van and cash they raised on Kickstarter, three photographers set out on the Twenty Journey to mark two decades of democracy in South Africa. Sipho Mpongo would document ‘born frees’, Sean Metelerkamp was interested in capturing idiosyncrasy and Wikus de Wet wanted to investigate the relationship between land and the people who own and/or live on it. Over 7 months the trio travelled 24 000 kilometres to collect 12 terabytes of video footage and photographs and countless interesting stories. They officially ended the Twenty Journey on 1 January 2015.
Reflecting back, Sipho says “As a young adult coming from a township, I had a different perspective of what South Africa is. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel to other cities or even towns before. My idea of South Africa was challenged from the first day of the journey. I had to re-look at what I grew up thinking of South Africa and all the anger I held. I had to put aside my morals and ideas and use the opportunity to learn about other races and places.” According to Sean, “The hardest parts were often the most rewarding on the other side – breaking through the layers to get to the core.” While most days were testing and filled with confusion, the euphoric moments he experienced made it worthwhile and Sean continually searched for these throughout the journey. Wikus returned from the journey hopeful, having learnt that “South Africa is a magnificently puzzled country.” He has seen first hand that there is a lot of room for progress, but is excited about what the next 10 years will bring.
Wikus de Wet
Wikus de Wet
For the past three years Ulrich Knoblauch has been working on a book of photographs called Crystal Pools. It was almost on a whim that the project started; Ulrich was having coffee with a friend a few years back when they decided to visit Cyrstal Pools for an impromptu shoot. Now, having nearly finished the process of shooting, the book will be made ready for release during Paris Fashion Week at the end of September.
“To over-simplify,” Ulrich says, “it’s a book about a group of girls who see an amazing rock pool next to the road in Bains Kloof or somewhere and decide, right there and then, to park the car and go skinny dipping. It’s that ‘Bruce Weber’ life, but more romantic than sexy…although they’re mostly nude, the book is not about nudity – it’s about youthful innocence, freedom, friendship and a general positive outlook on life.”
With a strong focus on portraiture, Melanie Cleary’s photographs are anchored within a genre of socio-political commentary. In her ongoing series of Family Portraits she takes intimate photographs families and individuals over a number of years, showing their development over time.
“It started with Anri and Waddy (Die Antwoord) as my first subjects in 2006,” says Melanie, who was drawn to their creative energy and performative persona. “The opposite applies to the portraits of the children. Their willingness to be photographed is tempered by encouraging a non-performative action,” she says. “The only constant in this body of work is available light.”
Earlier this year Johno Mellish began photographing abandoned cars at the airport. “Littered around the parking lots,” he writes, “they seem so mysterious and melancholic.” The photo essay, titled On Leaving, isn’t so much about the cars as it is about the people who left them there. “While photographing these cars, I try to find any information I can about the identities of the owners and the time and circumstances of abandonment. License plate number and till slips, business cars and the scraps in the seat cushions, anything that will give clues.”
In researching these vehicles and their owners, Johno remains open to circumstantial elements unique to the location and the time of abandonment – which requires research of coinciding local and national events. In doing so, he plans to mix fiction and fact that will create a platform for viewers to consider reasons for staying and reasons for leaving.
Main Road Chronicles
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 results of this are catalogued as Main Road Chronicles.
According to Guy, 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.” Even then, he’s found that every day he steps out he sees something new that he may have previously missed. “Whether it was not there before, or the time of day was different making the light fall from a different direction, there’s always something new to see.”
For What It’s Worth
Central Rand Goldfield
“Whether they are active or long dormant, mines speak of a combination of sacrifice and gain. Their features are crude, unsightly scars on the landscape – unlikely feats of hard labour and specialised engineering, constructed to extract value from the earth but also exacting a price,” says Dillon Marsh.
In his ongoing series For What It’s Worth, Dillon combines photography and computer generated elements in an effort to visualise the output of a mine. The CGI objects represent a scale model of the materials removed from each mine, a solid mass occupying a scene showing the ground from which it was extracted. “By doing so,” Dillon explains, “the intention is to create a kind of visualisation of the merits and shortfalls of mining in South Africa, an industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically.”
West O’okiep Mine
East Rand Goldfield
Free State Goldfield
Nababeep South Mine
A South African Family Album
Tired of a world where photos are so often taken, but so rarely given, Alexia Webster creates free outdoor photo studios on street corners in Hillbrow, Woodstock, Blikkiesdorp, Du Noon and Cape Town city centre. The project invites passing families, individuals and groups of friends to pose at the temporary studio – they recieve a printed photograph in return and, form part of a growing South African Family Album.
Beyond South Africa, Alexia has previously set up studios in Madagascar, Reunion Island, India as well as a refugee camp in Goma. “I am hoping to visit a number of refugee camps as I feel the family photographs are most appreciated and valued in these places, where community and family has been so disrupted and the future is so uncertain,” she says. More immediately she plans to tour the country to take the project into many of SA’s rural towns.
Born in Pietermaritzburg, David Southwood has been a practicing photographer for over a dedade – roughly the same amount of time he has spent observing, participating in and photographing the Milnerton flea market. In 2011 a collection of these photographs were published by Fourthwall Books, forming a powerful record of an outskirt economy seeking to earn a living through trade in secondhand goods.
Now, shifting his focus from the broader community of traders, he still visits the market each weekend to photograph a woman by the name of Jackie de Kock. “I have known Jackie and her minder, Barbara, for about 15 years and we all get along. It’s very difficult to kneel in front of a down-at-heel person with mental and physical disabilities twice a week, in public, and photograph. People mumble obscenities at me frequently. Until one of us leaves the market I’ll continue to photograph Jackie. It’s important to embark on projects whose outcome is unknown. A preconceived, accurate summary of the result generally engenders the boring,” he says.