It was a Sunday. I had asked fellow writer and photographer Lidudumalingani Mqombothi to accompany me on a mission of early morning, innercity exploration, and he’d obliged. We started our journey in Jeppestown and blitzkrieg’d our way towards Newtown, stopping along the way to inspect stand-out pieces.
I’d been taking note of McFarlane Construction building, situated on the corner of Rissik and Anderson Streets, everytime I drove past it. It’d be dope to photograph the pieces on the inside before the city cordoned it off, much like they’d been doing other abandoned buildings — a process that had kickstarted in the early 2000s which seemed to be having a renaissance in the middle of the current decade. Lidudumalingani acted as the lookout while I made a few images. The one above stands out for many reasons.
It’s a fairly busy intersection. Yet somehow, at this moment, there weren’t many vehicles. I saw the police van coming, positioned myself, then closed the camera’s shatter as it came into the frame.
There are many ways of reading this photograph, but that’s not how I view the image-making process. I go in, intent on making dope shit, and attempt as much as possible to not attach my own baggage to it. In Jozi’s CBD, a place perverted by history, dismembered, violated, wrecked and transformed on an on-going basis, a broader consideration of context is necessary.
My chosen way to think about the city as a living, breathing, and therefore constantly-changing entity containing multiplicities within it, is to photograph buildings and street art. How does it feel to be inside an establishment previously inhabited by human beings, but now filled with litter, sprinkled with a dizzyingly pungent aroma of shit and piss? How are the artists accessing these spaces? Does the art they leave behind communicate anything? Should it communicate anything? And how does the graf in derelict locations, as found in Troyeville, Jeppestown, the CBD and parts of Newtown, differ from the art found in Maboneng and in Braamfontein, where the function of street art is to beautify the surroundings before the gentrifiers take control?
Oh, the police vehicle; the presence of police in the city is contentious. The police force are enablers of some of the most extreme violations in the CBD (ask Yeoville residents). It’s commonplace to see a police vehicle driving up the road on Goud Street, past the nyaope users, and stopping strategically by the side of the road for a conversation with the dealers. I watched Denzel Washington in Training Day; I’ve seen NYPD Blue; I know that the police are not my friend.
So, what was that vehicle doing on a traffic-less street? What were they on the lookout for?
Photographing street art is my way of coming to terms with a changing place; of accepting death, and welcoming rebirth. Graf pieces don’t last. Buildings change occupants. Space is transformed daily in this city.
The place is no longer accessible. Within it lies what this image reveals. Outside of it, life goes on, and no one really cares in the greater scheme of life.