The Big Issue interviewer asked me if the work which I did addressed the decline of the white regime. I replied thus,
‘I think itâs stretching it to say that the decline of the white regime is a theme in my work. That said, as a white man photographing South Africa, the decline of the âwhite regimeâ is going to permeate my photography. Maybe itâs implicit in what I do and maybe you are right, which is good because these subtexts mature with age and sometimes become poignant even if they were not planned that way.’
I got to thinking about how the context in which work is viewed changes over time and how work can change it spots. In Boksburg, by Goldblatt, particularly struck me as a body of work whose meaning has been adapted to current thinking, in hindsight of course. It has also struck me that had DG adopted a radically stylised approach Boksburg would probably not have weathered the fickle and choppy seas of criticism. The guy does have some wildly predictive Red Indian soothsayer genes, but I suspect his craft lies less in the ability to predict the future and more in his ability to denude the work of stylistic trickery thereby opening it up to a variety of contemporary interpretations. Viva.
While digging through my archives I was shocked and horrified to find a sequence featuring a lady of the night, a pool table and a beer bottle. These shots were made about 10 years ago.
The Kimberley hotel was a place in which many sorts of transaction occurred. A crack den was situated diagonally across the intersection on which the Kimberley lies and a man with whom I was acquainted used to be the runner. I think he has long since exited the Kimberley precinct. Although a poor man from the street he could always be found reading in the corner of the bar. Books by Daniel Defoe I think. He was a gentleman who somehow found himself running errands between a brothel and a crack den.
I will look in the second layer of Kimberley negs and see if he appears in his corner with Man Friday.
I worked for the Sunday Times as a press photographer, early days, so I guess it’s only fair that they return the pound of flesh inÂ review form. The review is by Oliver Roberts with whom I shared an immediate rapport.
Funnily enough the Rapport newspaper was one of the rags which didn’t review the show. Please also find paper reviews by the STAR, Mail and Guardian and the Citizen as well as a radio interview with SAFM’s Michelle Constant.
Matthew Patridge’s Mail and Guardian review:
The Road Trip
The road trip is never just about the road itself, its about the story that the road takes you on. As a medium, photography seems naturally suited to genre of the road trip. As a catalogue of time, its series of tangential points are designated with the immortalising importance, however minute, of the direction of the photographersâ lens.
Dave Southwoodâs latest exhibition, âN1â at the Goethe Institute on Jan Smuts Ave, is a just such a case in point. Using the N1 as an alibi for taking other pictures that parallel the journey, Southwood brings closer an investigation of the surfaces and textures of the classic road trip.
The N1 is a stretch of road that begins at the northern end of Buitengracht Street in Cape Town, just before the entrance to the waterfront, ending at the Beit Bridge borderpost on the Limpopo River. As a highway, it is one of the countryâs main arteries, sluggishly meandering through five provinces.
One would therefore expect landscape to be the predominant feature in such a show. However Southwoodâs desire for his to pictures to âcommunicate as phenomenaâ in an almost âpre-cognitive stateâ means that the nuances of everyday life are allowed to strongly permeate through the narrative of the exhibition.
Petrol stations naturally feature. Yet, in a testament to Southwoodâs deliberate intention not to lock down an experience of the road and journey, they are not as you would expect. Rather they are suggested as points and gestures along the lies of a narrative, through subtle intimations such as colour and the lonely drift of people milling about outside a service stop.
The cracked porcelain of a wash hand basin in a dimly lit truck stop echoes the recurring, mundane experience that the show charts. Yet this tiny observation is juxtaposed with soaring and grand topographies. In an exquisitely printed image of a truck crossing a misty bridge, the tonal gradation of this invisible plane of vapour allows the viewer to become lost in the transience of the experience.
A single signpost against a blue sky on a barren lanscape reads âLove the Road Aheadâ, whilst the horizontal red and yellow lines through the car window in another shot speaks of a respite from that very road. In this sense the exhibition takes us through a series of beginnings and ends, illuminating the distance inbetween. Attesting to this is the titles of the works which only provide the geographical co-ordinates of where each image was taken.
In this way the viewer is left to make sense of each picture themselves, giving Southwoodâs unique mode of storytelling a typically open end. As style itself becomes a narrative mechanism, the medium colour format enhances the visual experience. The bright pink of jersey in the midday sun is blown out against a vivid azure sky.
What is more impressive is the range of photographic space and depth that the series investigates. In one of the few images of the actual N1, when the road narrows into single lanes as it passes through a jagged cut out section of hill, the detail in the shadows is fully visible. Here the technical ability of rendering a flash lit subject becomes a central concern of the work, giving the landscape an illuminating presence.
Considering the recent petrol crisis in the country, this exhibition serves make visible that which is normally disregarded through the tedious routine of travel. The ordinariness of a broken window-pane and the decomposing carcass of a cow is celebrated as a arc on a journey that dares to look and contemplate beyond the banality of blinkered everyday vision. Southwoodâs images sift through the roadside junk, exploring light looking for, but not casting, meaning.
Runs until 14th â 26th July at the Goethe Institute on Jan Smuts.
I have a show on at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg. It is a precis version of the N1 body of work which consists of around 50 photographs. This shot shows one of the three areas in which the work hangs at the GI.
On Thursday last I met Paul Tesha from Dar Es Salaam. He is a quiet-spoken, polite guy who is an economic refugee from Tanzania. He was first in SA in 2006, but was deported back to his domicile on being caught. He returned in 2010.
He makes up part of a band of Tanzanians who live under a bridge in Cape Town. Last week all the men were forcibly removed but they have begun to trickle back into their previous place of residence.
So it is under these rarified and intense conditions that I engage with Paul.
‘Please show me where you live, Paul’ I ask.
He leads me to this portion of tar and says, ‘This is my house.’
When I lived in Berlin I became friendly with Ida who studied at the same university. At the end of an evening of excited chit-chat, suggestive glances and witheld information at Club Duncker she invited me back to her apartment. I declined on account of a reason which, as it left my lips, seemed utterly ridiculous. A major fuck-up.
The following night I changed my mind(surprise surprise) and called Ida to take her up on her offer of the same morning. She said that the sell-by date of the offer had passed.
A few days later she came to my apartment and I gave her a glass of water for refreshment. I also made this portrait.
The body of water represents the crux of my relationship with Ida and will always remain suspended between the possibility of sex and a late-night, half-can of refrigerated tuna fisch.
“He watched a faint halo of dust form over the abraded landscape. It was accompanied by the distant sound of motorised noise. Standing on the verge, he wasnât sure which he had noticed first, the dust or the noise.”
Sean O’Toole supplied the captions which appear in the N1 Book. Here is a description from the author directed at his own words:
âIf the highway is the theoretical expression of a straight line, reality proposes something else.â This statement, which, in lieu of a notebook, I sent as a text message to myself one morning while stuck in a traffic snarl north of Johannesburg, kick-started a curious process of investigation. This process culminated in the series of texts that accompany David Southwoodâs photo essay on the N1.
About these words. Some of the texts appearing in this book-length essay are drawn directly from those early SMS conversations with myself, a loose, purposeless series of dialogues prompted by the direct, first-hand experience driving along the motorways in and around Gauteng, principally the route between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Not all the texts were birthed this way. The great majority are the outcome of a more deliberate and focused engagement with the photographerâs pictures. One key point: the texts do not caption the photographs; conversely, the photographs do not illustrate their text companions. The two live independently. In book form, they collaborate. Sometimes the partnership is harmonious, although purposeful dissonance is also a part of the bookâs creative strategy. At times boldly factual, in other instances shyly impressionistic, the texts are not the principle actor: the book can be enjoyed without reference to the words â arguably, the converse is not true.
Ranging in style from narrative vignettes to aphoristic enquiry, the texts aim to underscore the point that there is no straightforward way of understanding the road, this road, our National Road One. The N1 exists as a mute fact; it is a functional transport route. The N1 is, however, also a public stage, a quixotic metaphor waiting to be understood.
Here is a shot of three waves breaking against one another and throwing up a peak.
Over the course of the last few years I have seen two other photographs of these waves comprised of two or more other waves moving is dissimilar directions.
I also made a photograph like this many years ago. To me they represent ideas which are present in the artistic consciousness, but which don’t get realised. If I even finish the series it will be a comment on these sorts of conceptual tracks and the eventual apprehension thereof.
My new project has to do with a natural amphitheatre Â formed by the confluence of some highways, at the start/terminus of the N1(highway), and the 40-50 men who live there. A band of Tanzanians(mainly) have set up house in the underpass. These men are waiting to stow away and there are forays by night under the dim flouros of the harbour near the pig iron heap in order to jump onto a ship. They are the hardest group of men I have ever encountered(they would never agree to play Aussie Rules) and they occupy a large and very inhospitable departure lounge.
Their domicile is adjacent to the harbour’s high wall. Maybe a new ubiquitous and fragmented country should be created which can act as the domicile of men who occupy underpasses, barren shoulders and other other sooty and underdesigned bits of angular town planning. How about Accrete?
Every day the group power structure changes because the community is transient, but I think the main cat is called Kebo. He has a jaw like and anvil and loves telling me to fuck off in Swahili. Some of these men have come because their farms no longer have rain because the climate has changed. It’s hard for me to comprehend.
When on the turf of the Tanzanians one feels odd: it’s as if one is surrounded by sheets of one way glass whose polarity switches constantly. Sometimes one feels invasive because it’s possible to observe very personal belongings, like a tiny kids hat containing a stone where the small cranium should be in order to prevent it from blowing away after it has been washed. At other times one becomes aware of the spectators in the millions of cars which stream around on the highways which hem the zome in.
This is Adam Bichili. He left Somalia for Kenya when he was 7 because of civil war and came to SA when he was in his late teens. Somehow he ended up in Birmingham and then was deported for fighting with a fellow human after 7 years in that city. He seems to have been in jail at all the points where he has lived. In Johannesburg he was in Sun City. Jail is fuck all he says. I don’t think it is harrowing for him.
He is very unusual in that he didn’t ask for anything, had a certain resigned humour to do with his predicament and was a sharp as a knife. He doesn’t really mind if he dies, he said so. That’s it. Maybe he has a certain sort of liberation.
He has a girl and a kid called Ayiya in Birmingham. He misses them a load. I asked him what the worst thing in his life was.