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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Durban Street Photography

 Street photography is most certainly not my forte. Not by a long shot. In many ways my photography is an extension of my personality and control tends to be something that I need. I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. Street photography has always meant letting go in some ways. There’s a lot less control, particularly to someone who feels unfamiliar in the melee of street photography. Possibly ironically, I feel a lot more comfortable photographing in rural situations, possibly as a result of a background in rural research where I lived in a community in the Caprivi Strip for a while. at any rate, the constant movement and bustle of street photography has always alluded me for a variety of reasons. Most notable of these is the act of approaching a stranger and photographing them.

A construction worker surveys the damage wrought by a falling beam that happened during the photo walk

when Myllo Menorah approached me about the possibility of putting together a workshop I jumped at the opportunity. To be clear, this is Myllo’s workshop, not mine. I couldn’t lead a street photography workshop if my life depended on it. So with a sense of trepidation I found myself in downtown Durban with Myllo and a fellow photographer with not a small amount of experience in street photography.

To ease neophytes into the scene, Myllo led us on foot through the quiet back roads along the beachfront. From there a taxi ride to the early morning market threw us into the pellmell of Durban’s entry point for decades. Throughout, Myllo kept a running commentary on the history of demarcation and space in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa.

The surprise was how accepted we were as a group. Street photography in South Africa can be regarded in certain places and by certain types of photographers with a great deal of suspicion by those who are being photographed. Three people wandering through the streets made things easier, and somewhat safer. This is not to say that street photography is like photographing a genteel, patrolled, park. There is the possibility of crime, so you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

That said, the surprise for many South Africans venturing into areas where they feel less comfortable (by this I mean South Africans of all colour and creed) is how alike we actually all are. Street photography is a way to bridge those gaps, so long as it’s done with courtesy and respect for the individuals in the images. For the most part, we were greeted with warmth and smiles when the cameras were visible. The immediate question was always where were we from; the automatic assumption being that we were tourists (in some ways we were).

Ultimately I fell back into a groove of familiarity by creating portraits of people that I was able to interact with. Clearly my Henri-Cartier Bresson impersonation will have to wait for another lifetime. I still have issues - courtesy of years of study in cultural relativism - of photographing people without their knowledge. However, part of the trepidation, no doubt inbred through the standard South African paranoia of each other (I am fortunate and blessed to have friends and colleagues across cultural lines and it is often a source of amusement on both sides to see how far-fetched our interpretations of each other’s lifestyles and world-views stretch), is somewhat diminished. I say standard South African paranoia as the realisation is that when travelling and shooting in foreign countries I have little of the nervousness that I have when photographing people in my own country. 

A trolley pusher outside a grocer in the House-wives Market

Wandering through the alleys and arcades and central Durban was fascinating and extremely rewarding from a photographic point of view. Myllo will probably be running several more of these street photography workshops, so keep an eye on dates as they come out. Group sizes will always be small, so be sure to book fast when they come out. 

Myllo changing batteries on his Fujifilm in an arcade in Durban

A shop owner in a downtown Durban Arcade

Street Barber

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