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A City Refracted

A City Refracted

  • R 30000

Johannesburg’s inner city has, since the mining town’s formation, served as the first stop for new arrivals. As such it has always been vibrant and in a constant state of flux. I initially started photographing the area in the nineties when racial segregation laws were being lifted and black South Africans had begun moving from the outlying townships to the city. A monograph of my black-and-white images from that period, The Inner City, was published by Ravan Press in 2000. The essay documents the period in which the city shifted from a whites-only precinct to a vibrant mixed-race area. It was the first South African urban area to suggest the possible realisation of Nelson Mandela’s dream for an integrated society.

During the past two decades, simultaneous to white people vacating the inner city, increasingly the area has become home to new immigrants from all over Africa. Certain districts and blocks of flats are now dominated by Nigerians, Ghanaians and Somalis. Much of the physical infrastructure from the apart-heid era remains. However, the new occupants have adapted the structures to their way of life and culture.

Johannesburg is a unique city. It is made up of separate communities that differ greatly in terms of wealth, education, race and cultural background. The city is a stark reflection of the country’s social polarisation and in many ways refutes the dream of a rainbow nation. For example, many residents living in the suburbs of Johannesburg have not ventured into the inner city since the mid-1990s and vice versa. 

The reason for returning my attention to this area is not just to document external changes. The city’s increasing social polarisations have resulted in me being an outsider in a neighbourhood that is less than 10 minutes’ drive from my home. This has allowed me to transform my engagement with the subject from the viewpoint of the local to that of the foreigner. It has become necessary for me to hire a bodyguard in order to pursue my photographic work freely in this area.

The title reflects both the lack of racial integration within the city as well as the photographic approach.

I too am an immigrant to Johannesburg, moving from Cape Town in the eighties. I was drawn by the edgy realism that mirrored the fast pace of social and political change that was taking place within the country at that time.

This body of work, A City Refracted, echoes my altered vision – both photographically as well as in my view of the country’s future.


Parameters of Book:
Author: Graeme Williams
ISBN: 9781431421640
E-book ISBN:  
Size (mm): 250x275mm
Pages: 160pp
Format: Hardback
Colour: Full Colour
Rights: South African
Language: English
Publication Date: July 2015

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