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Stowaways

Here is the project as published by africaisacountry.com

http://africasacountry.com/under-nelson-mandela-boulevard-a-story-about-cape-towns-tanzanian-stowaways/

and a statement by the collaborating writer and photographer:

In ‚ÄúWriting the city after apartheid‚ÄĚ, 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, ‚ÄúThe 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.‚ÄĚ 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 Africa‚Äôs transition to democratic rule in 1994, that ‚Äúthe post-apartheid city is too immoderate and unresolved to be mapped.‚ÄĚ 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 Town‚ÄĒas extreme a post-apartheid city scenario as it is possible to imagine–we deemed collaboration essential. The living area in question‚ÄĒa paean to monumentalist city planning ideas of the 40s and 50s‚ÄĒcould 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 wasn‚Äôt 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 stowaways‚Äô 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 ships‚Äô 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 stowaways‚Äô lives and carry on. That is how it has been for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wedding ring.

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 ¬†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.

The intermittent roar of brutish trucks passing allowed me to stoop over her. Each time, after the roar subsided a metallic screeching sound remained in my ears and head. I put it down to religion.

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Adam takes ship.

Adam sent the following texts at around 05h this morning.

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

Salut.

 

 

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Egoli Gas

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Iliso Labantu, AVA

Some months ago my homies and I organised a show at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town. Five photographers from the ilisolabantu group showed work. Check here for a video clip made by CTV news.

Sipho¬†Mpongo’s¬†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.

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Altruism as a dolos

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 dolosse¬†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

“[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.‚ÄĚ
[Catéchisme Positivist, 1852]

 

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Carl Zeiss driving to work.

I saw a man with subdued style in Munich. He was around 45 and had the rounded, confident air of someone with vaults of money. I was between the train station and the head offices of Linhof AG in a sheer business district.

In the style of an angel from Wings of Desire he occupied a street corner silently, smoked a cigarette, looked into people’s heads and caused everything to slow down as if he had filled the clock with fine silt.

Adding to the chain of observation I paused behind him and tried to gain a sense of who he was. He had on a suit and a fine hat, smooth leather shoes and a red scarf with a microfine weave. His entire getup was an increment off shiny: nothing he wore or carried shone or glinted except for the insignia which was woven into his scarf repeatedly. It was the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross and although technically it didn’t glint the difference between leaden cotton(iron) and the silvery cotton representing the highlights was enough to give the sense of illumination. The buckle in his scarf which was in cold shadow, at the back of his neck, was where these highlights were most visible.

He finished his cigarette, stumped it out beneath his sole, entered his car and slid into the traffic trailing a tiny plume of white smoke which evaporated as fast as it emerged. It was only then that I realised I had seen Carl Zeiss driving to work.

Two years later when visiting my friend Tom Fritz in Leipzig I saw him again standing very quietly near the quarters of a massive Orangutang with a blunt forehead. He was with a young girl who must have been his daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

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Adam’s been in St. Petersburg

I have been down at the water/concrete photographing these hardy men. It’s time for a reinvention of the liberal, humane attitude towards despondency, ill-health, drug addiction and lack of a warm home.

How does one address a fraternity who don’t seem to want to accept anything save for money? Some NGOs have attempted to ‘help’ these Tanzanian stowaways but they are quite content, it seems, to float around in their soporific, heroin haze.

I see Adam. “Adam! Where you been? You ‘take ship?”’(he’s been somewhere)

Adam has had a ship tatooed onto his body. Judging by all the cranes, which add an incremental air to his arm, it’s a container ship. Judging by the 3 portholes Adam could possibly see himself in transit on it, staring onto some chop and swell, his new golden tooth redirecting some late afternoon rays.

Adam:”Been in St. Petersburg for 4 months”

Me: “No shit!”

Adam: “Was in the dry-dock for 3 months.’

Me: “Sheezus”

Adam:’Got a smoke?”

Me: ‘You went there for free, fuck. I have been wanting to go there.”

Adam: “Don’t smoke Menthol”

(Tanzanian Stowaways Don’t Smoke Menthol)

He holds out his arm and I realise I am going to repeat a trope.

Adam never begs for anything. He has never seemed to need anything other than the possibility of travel. I tried to demystify the condition and settled sceptically and momentarily on Bruce Chatwin.

‘Children¬†need¬†paths¬†to¬†explore,¬†to¬†take¬†bearings¬†on¬†the¬†earth¬†on¬†wich¬†they¬†live,¬†as¬†a¬†navigator¬† takes¬†bearings¬†on¬†familiar¬†landmarks.¬†If¬†we¬†excavate¬†the¬†memories¬†of¬†childhood,¬†we¬†remember¬†the¬† paths¬†first,¬†things¬†and¬†people¬†second¬†‚Ästpaths¬†down¬†the¬†garden,¬†the¬†way¬†to¬†school,¬†the¬†way¬†round¬†the¬† house,¬†corridors¬†trough¬†the¬†bracken¬†or¬†long¬†grass. ‘

What about the phrase, ‘Garden paths’ Bruce. This abbreviation strips the garden of altitude, granted, but the reward is innuendo. Maybe he’s a early gen psychogeographer. Garden paths don’t imply a movement through space.

This is what my friend Sean Christie writes. It’s way more original. See Daniel’s map below.

 

I’m excited about these pics Dave, there’s a sort of

first-visuals-back-from-Curiousity quality to them. Not that one wants

to over-egg the martian theme but I was reminded of some reading I did

on aliens a few years back, serious books written by Harvard

psychiatrist John E. Mack, who believed in the existence of a third

realm, and travellers from this to earth called Grays, and I’m only

waffling on about it because reading Mack gave me the sense of man’s

place in an omniverse, and I get the same sort of roomy feeling when

I’m around these Tanzanians, as if they’ve found a way to cross

dimensions, which in a sense they have. But having said that, I so

wanted to see the colour’s on Daniel Peter’s map. I frantically wanted

to see the colours, perhaps for his sake. Anyway I think I know how to

write about this, a cross between Mack and Iain Sinclair, with less

obfuscation and no hand-wringing.

Adam now(above). Daniel’s map. Adam 2010(below)

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