Nic Coetzer and I presented the Stowaways and their relationship to Heidegger at the UIA Conference in Durban. Here is the paper for downloading and reading in a quiet moment.
Here is a review of the day in the M and G.
MEMORY CARD SEA POWERÂ is the title of a broadsheet newspaper featuring a project that documents Tanzanian stowaways living under the National Road One in Cape Town.
The posters and prints live ephemerally under bridges and on walls in the public realm. The newspaper is printed with a single colour, black, and presents the hard, monotonous, grey underpass life of the stowaways with saturnine accuracy.
Many of the newspaper’s 12 flat A1s are parts of composite photographs which means that a start-to-finish reading of the paper renders the life of the stowaways in a jerky, heroin-ripped collage. When the paper is disassembled it can be reconstituted as a series of posters and very large photographs.
It’s very difficult to reassemble the broadsheet in it’s original form because the pages are unnumbered so the collage effect is enhanced again as the parts of the story crash against each other. Like a foamy wave washing through the city centre, for example. Both Sean Christie’s diaristic entries and the bust-up stowaway aphorisms, or particles of hope, suit chance.
All sides of the 12 A1s cover a surface which is 5 metres wide and 2,5 metres high.
Stick it on your wall, make a fire, smack a dog.
and a statement by the collaborating writer and photographer:
In â€śWriting the city after apartheidâ€ť, one of 39 essays in the recently published Cambridge History of South African Literature, the author, Michael Titlestad, correctly (if a little turgidly) points out that, â€śThe simultaneous transformation of apartheid cities and their vestigial divisions have made these concatenations (cities) primary sites for literary engagements with the simultaneous utopian promise and crippling contradictions of contemporary South Africa.â€ť It has been much the same for South African photographers, who have applied themselves to the meanings of the post-apartheid city with great vigour. Titlestad also argues, in accounting for the myriad ways that writers have approached the business of writing about urban spaces since South Africaâ€™s transition to democratic rule in 1994, that â€śthe post-apartheid city is too immoderate and unresolved to be mapped.â€ť Collaboration between writers and photographers would seem a natural enough response to these challenges, but, strangely enough, such collaborative projects can be counted on one hand.
In respect of the community of Tanzanian stowaways we encountered living rough under the freeways at the foot of Cape Townâ€”as extreme a post-apartheid city scenario as it is possible to imagine–we deemed collaboration essential. The living area in questionâ€”a paean to monumentalist city planning ideas of the 40s and 50sâ€”could hardly be more embedded with the politics both of the apartheid era and of the present political dispensation (more on this in the research diary extracts that form part of this submission), and in describing such complex matters the writing quickly becomes freighted in such a way that the stowaways would drift from view if it wasnâ€™t for the interplay of photographs that situate them in the marginal environs in question. By the same token the monochromatic environment the stowaways have come to occupy can constrain the scope there is in a photograph, especially a black and white photograph, to convey the full character of the stowawaysâ€™ lives: their laughter, the lilt of Swahili, the vividness of the highway embankments on a sunny day. This stowaway world is one of illicit pathways and secret holes in fences, of abutment walls that were never meant to be climbed and of ledges that were never meant to accommodate sleeping human bodies. All too frequently it is not possible for two men to proceed abreast, and the same is true for the writer and the photographer. Only the writer can follow the stowaways beyond the port perimeter fence, up a shipsâ€™ moorings and into the pitch dark of a tonnage hold. Only the photographer can demonstrate the desperation that makes its bed between six lanes of traffic. When writing and still photography have been unable to do justice to the manic manner of speech of a certain individual we have turned to video, and when all the aforementioned forms have threatened to expose the identities of our informants we have had them cartooned. Where one form of expression must necessarily stop it has been possible to pick up the thread of the stowawaysâ€™ lives and carry on. That is how it has been for us.
I decided to walk from the train station to the place where I was staying in Johannesburg. There weren’t many other people on the streets save for rubbish men and domestic workers.
On passing a small church I spotted a woman sleeping on a slatted bench. She was discreet because the bench was set against one of the church walls which didn’t give on to the street. A low and ineffective brick fence with iron cross-members stood between the polytheism of the street and the manicured sanctity of Â the church yard. The leaning church gardener was chaffing a woman behind a bush and when the bush provided some cover I darted over said fence and approached her.
Her unstirring body, more than her physical presence, had drawn me to look at that spot against the church wall. As I neared it became clear to me that she must have been very beautiful at some point. Her arms and face now had the red, ruddy glow of a big drinker and her arms were gaunt like an over-bred cat.
She wears carefully positioned clips in her hair and an exquisite boutique scarf around her waist.
Yoh i m going last night i jup on ship name bluu sky pls keep on touch with me family fhone rochell pls that the +447968334046 pls tell her what is hapen memory card sea power
can feel the ship is moven braa sound so nice alone this time but have no food i have only wotar but still me go mike
The guy never asked me for anything. They call him ‘memory card’ because he as fucking sharp as nails and he can remember shit. He’s a pacifier and the stowaways’ arbitrator and he embraces the possibilities which jumping on a ship represent. He has a gold tooth and the ‘British Empire’ banned him for six years for an undisclosed crime. Come back continue.
NEVA LOSE HOPE, HOPE TO SEA
I have been commissioned by Fourthwall Books to photograph the gasworks in Johannesburg which lie adjacent to the 44 Stanley complex of small businesses, big businesses and medium businesses, clothing shops, interior decor shops run by unfriendly deco lamps come to dim-lit life, Buchladen and galleries.
I don’t need to document all the equipment and the buildings in illustrative fashion because there are tens of thousands of Gasworks around the world which employ the same gear and were operational during the 20th Century. If the machinery wasn’t imported it was built here under copyright.
The place has gone to seed and the tendrils of creeper and weird industrial shapes which lie under the grass on the knolls interest me more. The complex consists of three ‘retorts’. A retort is a cavity in which coal is fired. A bench consists of many retorts which doesn’t sound very courtly, does it?
I have spent about a week traipsing around the site and will return to finish the series of photographs before the New Year.
With the portraits I tried to give a sense of Arcadia impending.
It’s all shot on some very old KODAK Vericolor 3 Type S film which has a rating of ISO 160 but really needs to be shot at ISO 50, or ISO 10 if reciprocity failure needs to be factored in. The final post on these images hasn’t been performed and the film has a slight pink base.
I introduced the site to Ivan Vladislavic via a 2.5 hr snoop around which involved some scrambling given the utter lack of planning and concealed subterranean voids in the toxic sump of the precinct. When we were done, he said ‘I know why you like photography, it gives you the excuse to bugger around in places which you wouldn’t normally see.’ It’s the truth.
SiphoÂ Mpongo’sÂ project is ahead of its time. He’s photographing a down-and-out battler whom he calls ‘Boss’. The series is called ‘Boss, ill-fated Boss’ and it’s comprised of intimate portraits of this ex-teacher who clearly bottomed out on some bad drugs and alcohol. I stand under correction, but I think some of the early work could have been done on a phone which is okay given the explicit trust which exists between the school boy and the middle-aged hobo.
The symbolism in the image is strong. It looks like Boss is carrying a cross(bottom), and he is in a sense because his time is borrowed and might he check out at any stage. One also gets the sense that his life is fully burdensome.
The cross put me in mind of Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ and how that series is underpinned by the repetition of a cross(middle).
Sipho sold an image on the show and bought Boss a pair of shoes.
I don’t know a helluva lot about definitions of altruism, but I was caused to start thinking about them when I realised that the stowaways who I am photographing don’t want help. While I didn’t go into the idea of photographing these men with hand-outs in mind, it is a strange feeling to have the idea, suddenly, that whatever currency the possibility of help might have carried no longer exists. Just like them I became a little unmoored when the ship cast away from the quay of aid.
This is not to say that a study of the community will not end up making their lives easier, but how the hell do you explain the highways and byways of altruism to a crack addict who speaks Swahili. Yes, I know, probably more easily than to a sober English speaker at an art party.
I spoke to the head of Lawyers for Human Rights who hadn’t even heard of these men. And when he did hear about their predicament he verified the fact that they are illegal on at least three counts at any one time. They continue to make a series of decisions which lands them in shit, and the pattern which each reiteration of the cycle describes is the same as that which came before only the chain which links the anchor to the craft wears continually.
Here is August Comte on Altruism, and below are two shots of the harbour’s ragged Western edge. A stowaway crept for four hours along these dolosseÂ at night only to get busted. He was stiff for a week.
The conception of ‘man’, and nobility as a consequence, in 1852 was clearly less fractured than it is now
â€ś[The] social point of view . . . cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries.
After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service. . . .
This [to live for others], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] humanity, whose we are entirely.â€ť
[CatĂ©chisme Positivist, 1852]