I think Sabelo Mlangeni is probably the best young(ish) photographer in South Africa. If you don’t know his work go and look at his projects, Country Girls, At Home/Ghost Towns (links included at the end of this post) and even his first project, Invisible Women, made when he was still studying at the Market Photo Workshop. It is very hard to think of anyone else who has so consistently produced nuanced, thoughtful images that actually expand our understanding of modern day South Africa. This image, Shuanny Hifive, No 20 Freeda Road, is one that underlines this class.Read More
The weekend saw some wonderfully Irish weather roll in. I’m honestly mystified how this island hasn’t been washed away by the amount of rain that it gets.
Then again, after years of drought in Cape Town and facing the existential threat of running out of water, it becomes quite hard not to enjoy the rain.Read More
Abandoned umbrella (victim of Storm Diana), corner of Blackhall Place and Ellis Quay.
What this work taught me is immeasurable. It showed me the monumental loss that apartheid forced onto the world. It showed me that so much that we accept as truth is actually quite far from it.
Most importantly though, it taught me that it while it is important to report a known truth, there is nothing more subversive than undermining an accepted lie.Read More
Simon Schama, the very erudite British historian, is responsible for one of my favourite quotes,
"...landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock".
For me, this also applies to the built environment us city dwellers live in. The way we build and shape our cities is entirely influenced by our culture and beliefs. I would even go so far as to argue that the dominant ideologies of the day design a city’s buildings as much as the architect who actually draws the plans. This isn’t a new theory with many photographers, such as David Goldblatt from South Africa and Paul Seawright from Northern Ireland, exploring different aspects of this process.Read More
This idea of visual languages is otherwise known as the study of semiotics. This branch of visual studies was championed by academics such as Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco who proposed, ‘that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication’. Essentially meaning that anything contained with the frame of a photograph can be a sign that holds further meanings whether intended or not. In this case something as arbitrary as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be regarded as a cultural phenomenon.Read More
I recently got my hands on a copy of Murphy’s book, The Republic, a lyrical photographic depiction of his home, the rapidly changing Ireland. What immediately stood out for me is the lack of any contextualising information. While there is a short quote by James Joyce to introduce the images there are no captions to accompany them and an all too short (in my opinion) afterword by Murphy.
So what does this mean? Everything and nothing. It is a powerful and fascinating depiction of an old, conservative country becoming a young, liberal country. It is full of humour and life. It is a very accomplished collection of images. I just wonder if it gets as under the skin of Ireland as it could if it had explanatory captions?Read More
We have really had an introduction to European winters here in Dublin...
This begs the question, 'What does it mean to visually understand a place?' J.B. Jackson, a prolific writer on landscape theory, speaks of a sense of place. In his book, 'A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time' he mentions a number of ways one can think about this term.Read More
Jo Ractliffe has long been one of my favourite photographers. Her more recent photographic projects like As Terras do Fim do Mundo and The Borderlands were hugely inspirational projects for me with their stark explorations of the landscape and the memories they hide. Yet, there is something about this image from Nadir, one of her very first artistic projects, that catches my imagination and refuses to let it go.Read More
The west coast of Ireland is an easily romanticised place. Incredible coastlines, rolling green hills and more than enough space to get happily lost.
" "In April 1996 an extraordinary process began in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, under its chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu, held its first public hearings to investigate over thirty years of human rights violations under apartheid. The Commission had been founded in the belief that truth was the only means by which the people of South Africa could come to a common understanding of their past, and that this understanding was necessary if the country was to forge a new national identity in the future. In the first two years more than 20,000 victims made statements to the commissioners and, encouraged by the possibility of amnesty, some 7,000 perpetrators came forward to confess their crimes." "Read More
I've recently become interested in these half/half spaces that occur in big cities. Previous posts have visually explored the one edge of Cape Town and the space that appears at the end of a city.
This post has some tentative images from the banks of the Liesbeek River. It was very much an exploratory shoot to see if there is anything worth further exploration. I'm not very happy with what I returned with but there are small pin pricks of interest.
For instance, I enjoyed the gradual urbanisation of the section I visited:
I'm also becoming fascinated by how houses opening adjacent to open spaces need to be barricaded by electric wire and high walls. Ordinarily you would expect people to embrace open spaces as extensions of their living areas. This is obviously not the case and undoubtedly because of our high crime rates in South Africa.
Finally, one can't help but fix on the ways that Cape Town's marginalised citizens become part of the city and the landscape.
As I said, I don't think the images are too exciting or illuminating at this point but I do think that there is a story to be explored. As always, now the hard work starts of prising open the essence of this story and building a level of trust with the communities that might be involved.
Hopefully, over the next couple of months I will be able to further illustrate the development of this story.
There is a fascinating conflict being played out at the moment. Thankfully, this conflict does not involve fear, death or the might of the industrial war machine. Instead, it's being fought by two works of art and is being fought on the plains of context, history and the present.Read More
People tell stories. That is something we have grown up to accept and believe wholeheartedly, and it is true, people do tell stories. For a long period of my photographic career I was told that I needed to photograph people to tell stories that would interest viewers. I believed it. As a documentary photographer what else can one do? Lots! While people do tell stories, both actively and passively, it is often the space around them, frequently so subconsciously created, that can tell a much deeper and more nuanced story.Read More
A little while ago I got the always welcome news that somebody liked my photography enough to feature it on their website. Finally, after 3 weeks of excited waiting I got the email that it was up. You can access the site through the following here.
The website, Muybridge's Horse, features artists who are interested in the ways in which humans interact with and experience animals and nature. I particularly like the sly sense of humour that fills many of the posts on the website and that was what initially made me want to contact them. Yet, if the humour pulls one in, it is the tone of gentle reflection pervading the site that makes it truly memorable.
The featured images are taken from a series I'm constantly working on about life in a South African museum.
In Cape Town's Company Gardens hidden in a shaded corner is a small bamboo grove. On the other end of the Company Gardens is Gardens Commercial High School. For the young pupils of this school this bamboo grove has become a traditional space to affirm your existence and proclaim your social relationships.Read More
Since I started working in the museum there was something I found quite humorous in this bird display but for a long time I couldn't work out what it was. Eventually it struck me. It was very much like a baroque painting but without any of the painting.Read More