South Africa (1996-1998)
This project was the first major body of work that I had attempted since South Africa’s change to democratic rule in1994. I experienced this transition period as a strange time. As a photographer, working in an environment that was dominated by the legacy of apartheid, it was difficult to come to terms with the changes. On a purely photographic level there was a relief that this overpowering shadow had finally been lifted from my way of seeing the world. I didn’t have the same moral obligation in terms of focus. On the other hand, it left me feeling that I would have to start from scratch in terms of discovering what it was that now motivated me to photograph, and what my identity as a photographer was on both a personal and more general level. Prior to 1994 it had been very difficult to work on a project without apartheid’s presence being felt – and feeling the need that it should be felt – but in a lot of ways it made things easier because it provided a starting point for all thoughts that had a social or documentary basis.
During the first few years post-1994 I was happy to let the dust settle, and I worked for magazines, newspapers and corporates and travelled around Southern Africa on commissions. Later, when I started feeling the urge to develop a new essay, I began to seriously consider my core reason for being a photographer and the direction I wanted to take. Initially, there was simply an acknowledgement that I missed being involved in a project, but this wasn’t enough to get me going and committed to a particular project. Without much real direction I decided to just start photographing and let things unfold – see where they fell.
After a while, I began to realise that the content of my photographs appeared to be reflecting my personal state of mind at the time. I felt very removed from the day-to-day realities of the world. I think that in part this was due to the extremes that I had been exposed to during the five-year period that I was covering the violence and intense politics leading up to 1994. But I think it was this sense of isolation, and apartness, that drove this project and, for me, gave it a sense of cohesion, as well as meaning. I would often immerse myself in these feelings before heading out to photograph and then I would see what came my way.
There is no doubt in my mind that for a project to work you need the images to have a similar imprint. If this imprint is too defused then there is little to tie the images together except for an outward theme or idea.
When it came to producing the book The Inner City I chose to use a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men at the front of the book: ‘Between the idea and the reality, Between the motion and the act, Falls the shadow’. This just kind of fitted with the way I felt at the time.
– Book published in 2000 –