His photography is a study of social and economic dynamics, of a culture of fear and security, of power and of marginalised citizenry, a complex civic portrait. In this inquiry his engagement with his subjects is intimate and direct, yet unobstrusive, connected, empathetic. There is precision, complexity, diligence, a thoroughness and an intensity in pursuit of ideas and concepts.
The fifty-four-storey building dominates Johannesburg’s skyline, its huge blinking advertising crown visible from Soweto in the south to Sandton in the north. When it was built in 1976—the year of the Soweto uprisings—the surroundings were exclusively white, and home to young middle-class couples, students and Jewish grandmothers. But as the city changed in response to the arrival of democracy in 1994, many residents joined the exodus towards the supposed safety of the northern suburbs, the vacated areas becoming associated with crime, urban decay and, most of all, the influx of foreign nationals from neighbouring African countries. Ponte’s iconic structure soon became a symbol of the downturn in central Johannesburg. Tales of brazen crack and prostitution rings operating from its car parks, four storeys of trash accumulating in its open core, frequent suicides have all added to the building’s legend. And yet, one is left with the feeling that even the building’s notoriety is somewhat exaggerated. In 2007 the building was bought by developers but by late 2008 their ambitious attempt to refurbish Ponte had failed spectacularly. They went bankrupt after promising to spend thirty million euros for the building. Their aim was to target a new generation of aspirant middle-class residents, young and upwardly mobile black professionals. The developer’s website still describes how ‘In every major city in the world, there is a building where most can only dream to live. These buildings are desirable because they are unique, luxurious, iconic. They require neither introduction nor explanation. The address says it all.’ Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse have been working on Ponte City since early 2008. Their project encompasses a wide variety of sources and media including photographs, found documents, interviews, and texts. During these years they took photographs of every window in the building, of every internal door, and of every television screen.
Project in collaboration with Patrick Waterhouse.
Loan from a private collection.
Framing of some images by Plasticollage, Paris.
Exhibition produced with the collaboration of Goodmann Gallery, Le Cap / Johannesburg.