Posts Tagged ‘africa’

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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Photography and the occult/Sassen

I have always admired Viviane Sassen’s photography. Many years ago I met her commercial agent in London and saw her early fashion work which was tight. Tight in the sense that it was simply composed, and lit with a raw, uncompromising flash-on-camera. So simple and tight, in fact, that is had a sort of Tonka Toy naivety and would make a good lesson for photography students on how to compose.

To me the way in which the over-produced fashion magazines of the late 90s/early 00s allowed pure fashion and fine art to coexist has oiled her transition over to the high art world. It’s good: her work doesn’t engender the typical spaghetti artspeak which more dyed-in-the-wool art photography can spark, and it’s beautiful. A New York Times critic who was obviously battling for words, and hadn’t been to Africa, said, ‘Sassen’s images ‘convey how strangely vivid and tantalizingly sad the world can seem to a mind and eye divested of the usual filters of perception’. Right buddy.

The work is fairly brutal because the people and faces which appear in her photography are generally cast in shadow and reduced to parts in a strict formal plan. I suspect that her conscience is pricking and she would rather sever heads than make millions from smiling/abject black faces. One also gets the feeling that she has no clue whatsoever about what runs Africa so she has decided to address it on a totally superficial level, and I don’t think the photographs go a helluva lot further than that.

The lack of clues in relation to identity in her work and her technical and formal aplomb do, however, make for compelling viewing because solving such beautiful puzzles in such pristine, high-white, environments is always a whole lot of fun.

I made these shots in 2004.

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