I am now working on the the final touches to my latest social documentary photography project – Jika Joe – I will upload images shortly… JR
Jika Joe is a shanty town in the middle of the City of Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, it is a place of narrow pathways between homes that butt up against one another, people live here to be close to their places of work. The city fathers would prefer that they lived else where but these people can’t afford the bus fares that move would involve.
Castle is a brand of beer that is widely sold in the shabeens (bars) of the area, children of Jika Joe make extra money collecting the empty bottles left in the pathways and returning them for the deposit offered by the brewery for them.
The shoe on the child’s foot was not top most on my mind when I took these images but a few weeks later when I leveled and contrasted the image they were topmost in regards to the construction of this photograph. At the time of shooting in Jika Joe I was more involved with capturing moments, the moment at the time was just a child in a shanty town delivering empty beer bottles… – In a sober moment long after the hype of the shot moment has passed the dawning of the significance of the adult shoes that this child fills arises for me.
John Robinson is a social documentary photographer and stroke survivor living in South Africa, these are his own words and images.
South Beach is a part of the City of Durban’s longest uninterrupted stretch of beach sand. The City of Durban is on the eastern seaboard of South Africa and the people here are washed with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. To the north of this stretch of sand are beaches with cafe society hang outs. To the south there is a pier with the upmarket Moyo’s Restaurant at it’s end and the uShaka Marine World complex and the private surf and sea clubs of the Vetches Beach area. Between these northern and southern affluent areas lies this long uninterrupted and relatively undeveloped stretch of beach sand. It’s along this beach that some of the ‘scatterlings’ of Africa come to be alone, sleep, pray, walk, swim, surf, work, commune with another, or just the sea sand and water.
On this uninterrupted length of beach I am alone with my thoughts, with just a few sea gulls for company. It takes me over an hour to walk its length and when I walk along the sands, these are some of the many people who have also taken some time out of their day for the same:
A pistol packing pastor, who’s day job is as a police man. He is on the beach to fetch holy water for the praying needs of his flock.
A surf life guard named Cat who has a dislike for crowds, when he has down time he spends it in a tent so that he is assured of his own personal space around him.
Others like two acrobats from Tanzania who are on their way to a better life in Europe somewhere, say that the beach is a good place to practice their craft and have a wash.
One man just sleeps in the dunes until another place opens up in a shelter for those who have arrived at a place where life has dealt a blow that was too hard to manage.
Another man uses a metal detector and searches for metal on the beach, he educates all who will listen on the lack of durability of modern South African coins. He showed me how quickly the sea water breaks down the alloys that our new coins are made of, and how the coinage of our fathers just lasted so much longer…
There is also a man who prays for the fact that he has a regular job, he comes out of his flat near by and prays on the beach each day.
I asked the people that I met only three questions; Where are you from. What do you do here and What do you like about this beach.
These are the people…
I have just finished a research project on how the camera affects the subject while the photographer tries to document it, this is a piece on truth that I wrote about two years ago.
The grey bristling form of pachydermic bulk stopped its away ward walking sway, but too soon for a correction on my part as I came up abruptly against the rear end of a circus elephant. My senses were filled with the truth of its form and smell as only possible when confronted physically with the arse end of an elephant.
I could rather deal with the form and smell of many things, I could choose a rose garden or a cheque in my favour.
I cannot pretend that I am smelling roses and the texture is not of bankers paper but hard bristles and raw smells of the rear end of a circus elephant. I am engulfed in a world of rank smell and texture that I can vouch for and write of in the first hand.
My perspective causes me to waive on the realities of the wisdom of the species, that its known that they have a sense of community, and that they care communally for the well being of their collective young. It’s not the candy coloured face, the soft eyes and gold coloured tusks with silk drapes and painted toe nails that I am confronted with!
The pressing facts are that if I do not back up like I should have done sooner, perhaps not looked on at the passing parade, I will find myself pressed down with a vegetable rich deposit too. I do not feel the need to get out my phone and snap an image in confirmation of the reality of my position.
It’s a truth that if you cross a road in rush hour traffic, the chances of breaking legs or worse are high, but it’s not an absolute certainty that it will happen, the reality of tombolo or casino comes into play and you must take your chance and make a move across the lanes filled with oncoming cars.
The certainty of my personal interaction with Nellie the Elephant is also based on chance, if you don’t watch where you walk in the circus ground, its true that the chances of touching base with a circus animal are high. It’s true too that the reality of that interaction can differ depending on the direction of travel of my self and that of Nellie – It was not the soft eyes, gold tusks, silk drapes and painted toes. It was not the communal caring pachydermic herd with lots of little one gambolling in and out of the caring elders either. It was the truth of the working waste disposal unit side of a member of the lesser Indian Pachyderm.
I am a photojournalist by practice, I make my images out of what is around me at the time, I research my material I go in with knowledge of my story, I can plan to an extent, I can ensure that I am where I want to be to tell a story, the technology of the camera and commitment on my part to not to structurally alter the form of the image ensures that a truth will emerge.
No matter the planing and effort to be at the right place at the right time, tombolo will always come into play. People do not always act or do something as expected, it’s often wasted effort to hold out for “The Shot” often its the unexpected image that says so much. The resulting images are often a surprise and the truth searched for shows up in ways unexpected – while I continue to push at the subject and frame image by image a reality of the truths before me will begin to emerge.
Truth is a funny thing, we know it to be, and there are many truths out there, but its in our approach that we will see truth differently, and its in the collection of those truths that the whole picture will in the end emerge.
God bless Nellie the Elephant, may all her quirks be recorded for ever after and may we as the viewers be always open to the many different aspects of her colourful, glorious, caring and also somewhat rank reality.
“If God took seven days to create the world, I must really be a big deal, cause I took nine months to be created…”
I have had a bone to pick with seven-day creationists for a long time, while I don’t believe that God could not create the world in seven of our days if wanted too. The above was posted on Facebook the other day, it just makes my own creation theories a bit more playable…
Rushing cool air, I can almost smell it as it passes through, my head is SO full of it at times.
The edges are so sharp, things are so defined…
the body is filled with energy.
I had a mild stroke in mid August 2012, I couldn’t talk, half of my body was lame and it took some time for things to heal. The above words describe for me the sensation of my brain coming back together again after the injury.
I am currently busy with my BA Honours degree in Media and Cultural Studies and continuing with my life as a social documentary photographer…
A fish goes about life as it knows it, has a fling with the angel fish with those finely shaped fins in the corner of the tank, and generally just has a great time being the resident guppy in the corner fish tank… shifting pebbles and preying on the flakes drifting down to his fishy spot in the grotto at the back of the world as he knows it.
On the other side of the glass I am staring at a half finished data analysis chapter for my BA Honours degree research project. I feel like a fish out of water when faced with academic writing, and I stare at the data in from of one of the participants in my sample group. He is saying things that the read theory says should not be the case about the “invisibleness” of a photographer using a rangefinder camera in intimate conditions. “no advantage over the DSLR camera at all” he says. Another photographer who also only uses rangefinders was a bit perturbed about people who could not see themselves on the back screen of his camera because he works with an analogue Leica M6, again nothing is said about the invisibleness side of things when using Leica’s greatest…
Is it because these two photographers are a bit like my guppy in the fish tank, they are just going on with life as they know it, they don’t know much about the invisibleness of their state just as the fish will be the last to know that it lives in water… It is only the photographers that used both SLR cameras and Rangefinder cameras in the sample group that know all about the difference in being with one or the other camera in a close or intimate condition…
Just like a fish in water, you will be the last to know of the advantages of your found photographic state…