Durban City

This photographic series was taken midway through 2013 whilst visiting my family in Durban, South Africa. My aim was to apply in Durban the same street photography practice I had been using in London; taking walks through the city, and along the way collecting images, which would form a patchwork of details, portraits and buildings. These Images form a fleeting and fragmented portrait of the city. This process of breaking the city down into smaller parts mirrors the fragmentary experience of moving through the city space. Furthermore, scrutinizing details such as the exposed inner wiring of the street light in one image or the discarded rubber sandal in another, forces one to look more closely at things, which ordinarily would be scarcely noticed. Scrutinizing the details on the street creates in me a sense of elation, I am overwhelmed with the feeling that every snapshot of detritus on the pavement is filled with more miniscule details, these details form an ephemeral patina of the everyday. I feel that in a way it would be possible to tell the history of a city by photographing the ground. Like a forensic investigator at a crime scene, picking apart the layers of the past in order to solve a crime.

Durban is a city which is at once so many violently contrasting things. A slamming together of people originally from Europe, India, Africa and recently China. My feelings at the time of photographing this series were that I had never seen Durban photographed the way I wanted to photograph it - that I was going to take the street photography practice more commonly associated with photographers like Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, amongst others and apply it to the city I used to live in. I was coming home and I wanted to see it again with new eyes.

There are many ways to read these pictures, for instance the photograph of Jabulani with the snakes on his shoulders could so easily be read as a spectacle for tourists. But in reality Jabulani is part of a group who perform for passers by selling ‘muti’ or traditional medicine to local people. In this case the muti they are selling is supposed to increase male virility. These sellers attract crowds especially around lunch time. Near Jabulani and his fellow salesmen is the main muti market, it is unusual for white people to visit the market, The people who sell muti in the market, for the most part, dislike having their picture taken as it would go against their own beliefs and superstitions aside from the fact that tourists have no interest in buying their wares and are purely there to gawk.

During my stay the walks I had been taking through the city center had inspired the interest of some of my family members who also wanted to walk through the city, albeit within the relative safety of a tour group. And so I rather reluctantly took a shambolic tour led by an enterprising Nigerian man named Pascal. I was not unaware of the irony that in order to see parts of the city I lived in I was going on a tour. The tour climaxed at the muti market where I mostly photographed the ground as I had no interest in photographing people against their will. Nor did I want to create sensationalist images of the dead monkeys, baboons and birds of prey that hang from stalls. But I did get an image of tourists taking a photograph of a child seated on the ground. This photograph captures my own anxieties about being white and photographing poor people who are black, especially in South Africa. I felt as if I had seen my own fears laid out in front of me, I feared that I was here photographing my own worst instincts.

In the end I hope that the strength of this series is that it doesn’t present a full story and that it leaves room for the viewer to imagine or to critique. That maybe the heat and humidity of the Durban air is infused with the celluloid. And that maybe I accomplished more with one pavement scene than a series of sensational images of dead baboons.

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