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image by
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

Mr. Mkhize has been photographed twice before in his life.
The first was for his Pass Book, which allowed the apartheid governement to control his movements.

The second was for his Identity Book, which allowed him to vote in the first democratic elections in 1994.

Ten years later, we took his picture for no official reason.

Mr. Mkhize lives in Madala hostel in Alexandra, a township in the heart of Johannesburg’s affluent northern suburbs. The apartheid government built single-sex hostels like Madala to accommodate rural migrants looking for work in the city.Mr. Mkhize has lived there for fifteen years.

I came here when I was just a boy. That was what you did. You left home and came to the city to look for work. I lived alone in this hostel. Alone with 400 other men. It was dangerous in those days. The football field outside was often covered in blood. There was a war between many of the locals and many of us that came from far away. We were kept apart, we spoke differently and wore different clothes. Many of the locals mocked us for being country boys. It started like that and then got more lethal. Finally it turned into a war.

Ten years after South Africa’s democratic elections, Mr. Mkhize is still a migrant worker. He still lives in Madala hostel. But the football pitch is now used for football, not battle. He used to share his room with three men. Now lie lives there with his wife, for the first time in their married life.

text by
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin

I never confronted myself very much with the outcome of photojournalistic efforts. I simply wasn´t interested in a visual language, that is uniform and used up, and I wasn´t interested in interchangeable photographs on war and suffering, on prostitution and poverty. Though I am a voyeur myself, I am not keen on voyeuristic images.

Again and again similar images are repeated, with only the actors and settings changing. Grieving mothers, charred human remains, sun sets, women giving birth, children playing with toy guns, cock fights, bull fights, Havana street scenes, reflections in puddles, reflections in windows, football posts in unlikely locations, swaddled babies, portraits taken through mosquito nets, needles in junkies’ arms, derelict toilets, Palestinian boys throwing stones, contorted Chinese gymnasts, Karl Lagerfeld, models preparing for fashion shows backstage, painted faces, bodies covered in mud, monks smoking cigarettes, pigeons silhouetted against the sky, Indian Sardus, children leaping into rivers, pigs being slaughtered.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
‘Unconcerned but not Indifferent’ Foto8 (March 2008)

Wars, poverty, migration, exploitation of all kinds, these are all topics belonging to human existence and belong to the photographic cosmos.

I just wish that more photographers working in the photojournalistic context would take their time to find a language of their own, I wish they would take the time to come to strong images and would edit their work as strictly as photographic work has to be edited.

I wish they would rethink this matter.
Photographic quality needs time.

During the beginning of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima I was looking for photographs I could fill my blog with, because I didn´t want to do go on as if nothing has happened.

I really had a hard time to find quality images out of this big pile of photojournalistic efforts that were triggered by Fukushima.

I don´t need any of those hurriedly mass-produced photographs produced in the aftermath of catastrophes all over the world.

Furthermore, those kinds of images are just replicated on television anyway. They’re totally redundant. Photographs in which the ‘instant’ is visible are as manipulative and as constructed as any other.

And I think that this shift – from reportage into a more studied, distanced, slower process – has been incredibly important to contemporary documentary photography. This approach is quite an entrenched way of working now. From Paul Seawright, to Paul Graham and so on, people are making political work that is distanced. It’s not about the marketplace anymore. It’s about intelligence, and using photography in an intelligent way.

But I think that now is the most interesting time for documentary photography. Rather than feeling like it’s in its demise, now is a time of real re-birth, in that you need to be more intelligent and more informed. It’s not just about having big balls anymore; you know what I mean? It’s actually about thinking. The art/documentary crossover has added an important element into the field as well, in that it’s not just about putting pictures on the wall anymore. For centuries the art world has been thinking about aesthetic rules, and the rules of engagement and so on. So it has also become about, ‘How do we apply these rules to documentary?’ There’s a lot more studying to be done on the part of the photographer, rather than just looking at the history of documentary photography. And that’s a real challenge. Whatever the case may be, there’s a real movement happening now, and it’s opening up; everybody’s allowed in. It’s really happening!

from an interview with:
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
source: Seesaw