Scratching the surface

(2011-2013)

The photographs in this essay record environments that lack cohesion; the structural elements and their surrounding spaces, are perceptually and intuitively un-integrated. Without the photographic frame to confine these scenes, they threaten one with a broader disintegration of meaning. The process of photographing these settings therefore becomes an attempt to contain them within logic and order. I have relied upon an internal visceral response to the scenes rather than employing an academic or architectural context for my choice.

The further motivation for photographing these human-altered, South African landscapes at this time and in this manner is prompted by number of factors. Post-apartheid South Africa now faces a demand for structural development to accommodate the rapid urbanization and growth of the middle class. The circumstances within which the country now finds itself mirror many of those faced by America following the 2nd World War. There is, at present an opportunity to reflect and learn from both the successes and failures of the rapid American unban development that occurred more that half a century ago.

American photographers responded to their man-altered landscapes by producing austere images that both shocked and repulsed their viewers. William Jenkins’ New Topographics exhibition held at the International Museum of Photography in 1975, made an impact on both society’s sensibility towards it’s urban and suburban landscapes and also on the medium of photography itself.

The straightforward composure of the content within the photographic frame allows the structures and their interaction within their environment to be observed from a position of neutrality. The images are purposefully uncomfortable in their simplicity because they bring the viewer face to face with the realities of the human presence within the landscape.

The approach employed in producing the images within this essay borrows from the visual language of the New Topographics photographers, However, by adopting and adapting some of the elements from this mode and applying it to a contemporary situation, the essay makes an uneasy comment on the broader human condition. South Africa has replicated an approach to development and the environment that received much criticism in America many decades ago. The motivation for following this analogous path seems to be a repeated knee-jerk reaction to pressing social needs in addition to a desire to conform to a superficial measure of success.