The Edge of Town

My initial motivation for this project was to capture a segment of South African life during this transit period. My own reactions to the changes happening around me were mixed and often jarring. In the early stages, I tried to let my approach to the project be as unformulated as possible, thereby allowing themes to emerge.

Instead of trying to construct a narrative about life in the country as a whole, I concentrated on fragments of life at the literal and figurative edges of town. It is a stream of consciousness that attempts to draw in the elements of both change and of lack of change within this paradoxical country.

This essay, like a mosaic, is made up of fragments that I have collected as I moved within the spaces occupied by South Africa’s marginalized communities. These fragments build a picture of the challenges, changes, frustrations and joys experienced by people who are attempting to move from the shadows into the centre stage of South African life.

Method

At the outset of this project I photographed in B/W, but then realized that colour added both a sense of immediacy and a further layering that I felt was required. I wanted to geographically cover as much of South Africa as I could and I have visited over a hundred towns and townships countrywide. I have never photographed in the same place twice. I wanted to avoid the conventional photographic documentary approach – so much a part of the apartheid documentary tradition. This meant deconstructing my habitual position of observing and photographing a subject from a strongly objective standpoint. The way I went about this was to make use of layers of visual information and also to photograph from a position that would give a sense of my involvement and hence communicate something more intimate. I realized over time that the closer one gets in proximity to the subject, the more the photographer’s presence shows through in the photographs. In some circumstances this became too dominant and I constantly had to find a balance between achieving a sense of intimacy and objectivity.