In the final quarter of last year I found myself working on a very exciting project – my first book. I was commissioned by Standard Bank to photograph an old industrial site adjacent to the Standard Bank headquarters in downtown Johannesburg. This property was purchased by the bank a few years ago for future development. As the buildings on the site were older than 60 years, the site required an historical assessment to take place. The recommendations that were made by the commission before any demolition or development take place, was that the building be properly documented. Standard Bank decided to take the recommendations a step further and produce a high quality large format glossy coffee table book to commemorate the old site. This is where I entered the picture.
I have been involved in book projects before, but only as a very small entity, providing necessary images, but never actually being more involved. This time round I was completely immersed in the process, also being required to write the accompanying text. I’m not an historian, so the research was completed by the very capable historians, Liz Delmont and Sue Krige. I then spent 10 days in Johannesburg getting to know the site intimately while photographing it from as many angles as possible.
What surprised me at the time was the level of security around the site. Standard, and the other banks in the area have turned this portion of down town Johannesburg into a safe haven. Walking around with upwards of thousands of rands worth of equipment dangling from my neck and shoulders, not once did I truly fear for my safety. On the occasions that I knew I would be peering intently through the viewfinder the remaining staff on the site were good enough to follow me and keep an eye out while I played with exposures.
Two series of images were particularly important one was a stitched panoramic of each street facade, while the other was images taken from the roof of the Standard Bank head office. The former was an interesting exercise in frustration. The shots themselves were fairly straight forward – as many straight on shots of the facades as possible while moving down the length of the street. The concept is simple enough. Plug them into Photoshop and stitch together to form a long skinny panoramic. The problem lies in the fact that the camera platform, i.e. me, is constantly moving down the length of the street. This means that perspective gets thrown out completely. It’s easy enough if the facades are all on one plane, but as soon as there is depth as well, all perspectival hell breaks loose. Judicious ‘art work’ was called for and ultimately I was able to create something of the feel for each of the facades. In retrospect I should have shot them all in the middle of the day though. The problem with trying to get good lighting was that building shadows got in the way. Ah well hind sight is always 20/20.