"An innovative approach to social documentary photography"
Rising 54 storeys high, Ponte City is the tallest residential building in Africa. Since 1975 this iconic structure has punctuated the Johannesburg skyline, originally offering cosmopolitan living for white South Africa. In the post-apartheid years the building became more integrated, with many people relocating from townships and recently it has become home for immigrants from other African countries. In 2007 developers planned a major refurbishment of the tower block; although the renovation began it was never completed—leaving the structure in a semi-destructed state, while tenants, those who had not yet been evicted or were simply squatting, still occupied flats in the block.
It was during this time period that the tower became the subject of a creative collaboration between South African photographer, Mikhael Subotzky and British artist, Patrick Waterhouse. They interviewed the remaining tenants and recorded the half-occupied building through a series of photographs and a collection of documents and other debris from the abandoned units. They began working at the monolithic block in 2007 and over the next five years they returned repeatedly to document the building: photographing every door in the multi-level structure and the view from every window; archiving the lives of the residents, from capturing what they were watching on TV to gathering discarded belongings. Cumulatively the work provides a cross-section of an iconic South African landmark that continues to symbolize the hopes and fears of the country’s most populous city, and in turn, this post-apartheid nation.
The exhibition is organized by Le Bal, Paris and Foto Museum, Antwerp.
Image: Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, Cleaning the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg (detail), 2008, courtesy Goodman Gallery © Magnum Photos.
In these videos, filmed during the installation of Ponte City at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, artists Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse discuss the project; the work; and the different stages in Ponte's history.