The Portfolio: Thato Monare

Through this project, documenting the rural Eastern Cape has become a personal favourite. In 2017, my brother and I went to the province for an initial period of five months on a low-cost housing construction project. It was my first time visiting and I was blown away by how beautiful the landscape there is. 

When creating these images, I was working for a construction company based in Pretoria as a driver and an artisan. Because of the driving involved, I was able to capture images of the landscape, church structures, animals and people who live in the villages. 

Every morning when we went to work, I’d also take my camera with me and take pictures of almost everything that spoke to me. It turned out that the landscape spoke the loudest.

I used a Canon 600D DSLR camera with a standard lens so there was no option of zooming in or out. I normally practise photography the old way, with an analogue camera, which trained me to understand how to compose images with limited options. Landscape photography can get complicated, with high-tech lenses being used to amplify aspects of the land and to shoot it from afar.

In the images I have collected, the opposite of that is true. Because I was using a standard lens, I had to go closer and pick my subjects correctly. 

I use my hands to frame the image first, before transcribing that framing on to the camera. I learnt that technique from photography school.

When creating this work, I was also thinking about the differences between the lives of people who live in urban areas, compared to the lives of people living in rural areas. 

It seems to me that in the Eastern Cape, the legacy of black people having been shifted to lands that can’t be developed or farmed properly is still very apparent. White people own plush farms, whereas a lot black people don’t have fertile land. They only have electricity, pit toilets and no running water. The poor quality of life can engender bleakness, a state of mind that can manifest itself as other social issues like alcoholism, which is perpetuated by unemployment.

In the towns of Maclear, Lady Grey (where this image was taken) and Barkly East, what I noticed is that the harshness of the landscape and the relative remoteness of the villages tends to compound social ills. 

In my images, I have tried to balance out the beauty and the harshness. This was not so much to blend them into one but to show the presence of both. 

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