While studying photography, my class was invited by our lecturer Dominique Edwards to spend a week of our term break at her family home in Barkly West in the Northern Cape.
The proposal — to have no expectations: to observe, document, make sense of, photograph, learn, challenge or accept, write and engage with a new environment — was enticing and was welcomed by my friends and I. Six of us made the journey up from Cape Town on the Shosholoza Meyl train.
The trip remains one of the most interesting and beautiful experiences of my life. While traversing Kimberley and Barkly West, we learned so much of our country’s history through an experiential acquisition of knowledge — the land, the people and the traces of the past. While exploring Barkly West on foot, I took a portrait that remains one of my most cherished photographs.
As we moved through a small suburb, an interesting sight opposite the road caught my attention. Enthralled, I stopped as my friends passed me by on the pavement. I tried to take the shot, but there was too much traffic and I was too far away. One of my friends, Hanna, had fallen back to keep an eye on me. I ran across the road and approached the pair who had caught my attention. I gesticulated to them and asked if I could take their portrait; they both agreed.
On the pavement, leaning against the barrier wall of a suburban home, sat two companions, their bodies and postures mirroring each other — knees raised to their chests with their arms folded; their gazes fixed on the horizon. This synchronicity contrasted with the pair: a young white boy and an elderly black man.
As I navigated taking the photograph, I was simultaneously (internally) negotiating what an image like this could mean. I knew what I was bearing witness to was “loaded” within historical and current contexts.
I never got their names, which I regret — I also regret not knowing enough Afrikaans to converse with them further. After I made the portrait, I grew concerned about catching up to the others. I expressed my gratitude to the pair and made my way back to the group.
I think often about this trip and what I learned, as well as this photograph and the weight behind it. The socioeconomic factors; the politics of the body and race; power dynamics; history; colonial legacy; the land; the mines; the diamonds; the pain; the injustice of it all.
This image carries all of these things, even if the subjects don’t directly present them.
I also came to terms with the fact that this image is also about something else; something powerful: it is a portrait of companions, enjoying each other’s company on a Saturday afternoon.