The Portfolio: Boitumelo Motau on capturing a moment

This is an image I took on an early winter morning on Klein Street, Johannesburg.  

Looking at it now, I’m sent into a spiral of thoughts that circle in my head a few times before finally resting on the image again. The photograph always offers some kind of pause in the midst of everything, as if I’ve captured a moment of breathing. 

In that moment, the plastic sheets momentarily act as blankets over my eyes allowing me to rest here; to be excused from whatever activity or life that lies outside this frame.  

If I think hard enough, I can still feel the wind cutting through bodies, forcing me to stay grounded and claim the small space I’m occupying. I’m looking across from one pavement to another, met by the overarching theme of the lockdown. There’s a safe distance between myself and what I’m looking at. Everything is enclosed and functioning with an inner rhythm and I have to be okay with its inaccessibility. I have nothing but surfaces to deal with.  

I’m then drawn to the simple poetry of the composition. Its stillness allows everything in and around me to happen; the winter sun doing nothing but adding highlights to my stiff face while creating the illusion of a silver lining running across the plastic shelter. In fact, I see many silver linings, all protruding from the same centre the dark figure behind seems to be rooted in. 

However, the truth of this image lies outside what the frame has to offer. The photograph is but a symbol of the invisible world around it. Outside the frame lies the elusive picture that refuses to be captured; a continuous moment that cannot be tamed or named but felt only through your personal body.  

Looking into my frame, I choose to be ignorant of a lot of facts. I choose to overlook the streets of Johannesburg as I know them and, instead, insist on believing this singular frozen moment is a true reflection of how things are. 

But the “moment” in itself is never still.

In fact, this almost choreographed moment is no longer there. Even in revisiting the space a few times, I can never capture it again, as if it were forever sucked into my camera when I pressed the shutter; as if what I was initially connected to has evaporated and only glimpses of it conjured whenever I look at the photograph again. 

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