Tim Hopwood

This is a body of work that was exhibited at the Cape Town Month of Photography, 2005. Below is the text that accompanied the images in the catalogue:

Shift

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2005

 For the past few years, I have been collecting evidence, so to speak. The evidence provides clues as to both the history and the collective unconscious of the city I live in.

 

I have been focusing primarily on structures, signage and rituals. For example, I have photographed the life cycle of shopping centres, from birth to decay. These provide clues as to the shifting of economies within the city. I have photographed hundreds of signs of businesses, looking for clues into the manner in which people construct names and claim ownership. I have documented the last standing houses of the Red Location, the oldest structures in any township in SA. I have documented the graffiti on the cell walls in the old post office, where BJ Vorster and later Steven Biko were incarcerated, as well as the decay of Biko House, where he received the beatings that led to his death. I have photographed the annual ritual of the black residents of the city that takes place on New Years Day. I have also photographed extensively the topography in and around King’s Beach: the beauty of the beach when it is covered after very high tides, the stark beauty of the ore dumps and cranes. I have recently begun a series of portraits of the people who use the beach: dog owners, surfers etc.

 

I am particularly interested also, in the power churches have over the belief systems of people in the city, and have been extensively photographing the monolithic face-brick structures of these edifices of power and control, and how they contrast with the way churches were built a century ago. I am also interested in the nomenclature of blocks of flats and townhouses, as well as the structures themselves; the highly creative nomenclature of taxis (Death Row, Lethal Injection, Titanic etc); as well as the green belt around the river which runs through the city forming huge cliffs flanked by beautiful forests.

 

I have also, to a lesser extent, photographed people: Construction workers who built the road outside my house, for example. I am about to begin work on a rather unusual subculture: The Small Dog Owners of Central.

 

Some of these bodies of work are complete. Some, like the taxis, I have only just begun. Some are nearing completion, and some, like the names of flats and businesses, seem as if they will never be complete.

 

However, this one is complete and, along with the images dealing with Biko, forms the nucleus around which all the others oscillate. It deals with the shift that has taken place in the city centre: How decay has set in to structures with the exodus of white capital, and how, on the other hand, a huge influx of residents of the townships has reclaimed it as a part of Africa once again, and it throbs with sound and energy.

 

This situation is not dissimilar to what has taken place in most city centres in South Africa and the United States: a shift of business and money to the white suburbs leaves behind what is perceived as a decaying urban centre riddled with crime. In Port Elizabeth and East London in particular, this is an interesting narrative to deconstruct.

 

I have attempted to portray the situation not as fact but merely as two different narratives propagated by those standing on either side of a racial divide which is very often constructed by the media. All the images have been taken on Sundays, in and around Govan Mbeki Avenue, when the streets are empty, and the centre is 'dead'. Even in these images, however, residues of a thriving informal economy can be glimpsed: the tables used by vendors during the week, now chained to traffic signs, for example. For the exhibition itself, sounds were recorded on a mini-disc on an averagely busy day in Govan Mbeki Avenue. These were played on a tape deck purchased in Govan Mbeki.

Tim Hopwood is represented by the PH Centre, Cape Town.

To order prints, contact Simone Tredoux: 021 461 3904, simone@phcentre.co.za, www.phcentre.co.za

 

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