FUTURE CAPE TOWN | Photo Essay : Partially Nomad, the unseen African cities

“Africa doesn’t need to catch up with the developed world – they need to develop their own way of moving forward.”

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Dave Robertson is a self-taught visual artist, born in Zimbabwe, based in Cape Town . His photographic work is primarily a form of social commentary.

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Future Cape Town: Why have you chosen to photograph these particular places ?

 Dave Robertson: The images I selected to use in the ‘Partially Nomad’ series were photographed over several years without an intention of exhibiting them as a body of work. The idea to transform the photographs into artworks developed spontaneously when I was offered an exhibition at the Res Gallery in Johannesburg in 2104. When giving titles to the exhibited artworks I did not reveal where the original photographs were captured, because they had been transformed into artworks and the specific location had become irrelevant. More important for me is that the images originated and underwent transformation in Africa.

Travelling to Egypt was initially an attempt to escape Christmas in South Africa. On arriving in Cairo I discovered that to keep the tourists happy, Santa is never out of sight and can be seen in all shapes and sizes, abseiling off buildings and hanging out of windows.

I spent six chaotic weeks in Ethiopia as part of a film crew working on a movie about Nelson Mandela’s military training in 1961. On my way to and from location I would hang out the window of the mini-bus and photograph Addis on the move.

My main reason for going to Mali was to experience the West African music festival, the ‘Festival au Desert’ near Timbuktu. By the time I arrived at the venue, having driven across Mali via ‘public transport’ I was too exhausted to fulfill my ambition of documenting the event so I chilled and soaked up the music.

FCT: How has developing the series “Partially Nomad” impacted your view of African cities?

DR: The Partially Nomad series is an attempt to share ideas about the magical, unseen aspects found in Africa. By transforming the photographs with the addition of various inks I was intending to express an ‘in-between’ space… a space that is becoming. This space exists ‘metaphysically’ between the ancient part of the city, the comparatively recent colonial structures and the new developing urban areas. In some way it is a tribute to the magical realism mode of writing by African authors like Mia Couto from Mozambique, Ben Okri from Nigeria and Zakes Mda from South Africa.

FCT: You photograph a large variety of people and places across Africa and in that way, parallels are drawn. What is the one thing about African cities you would like to change ?

DR: The one thing I would like to see changing is the ongoing influx of people to the big cities and the failure of governments to sustain or develop rural communities, so that people would not feel the need to leave. I would love to see governments insisting that big business, (foreign or local), play a more constructive role in giving back to the people that have been exploited. This could be done by setting up sustainable industries and businesses in rural areas, to discourage the further exodus to the cities. Africa doesn’t need to catch up with the developed world – they need to develop their own way of moving forward.

FCT:Which African city had the biggest impact on you and why ?

DR: For me the Ethiopian capital, Addis was the most fascinating city I visited. A city undergoing major transformation, it looks and sounds like a giant construction site. Buildings wrapped in plastic sheeting surrounded by home-made wooden scaffolding clutter the city. The influx of chinese construction workers and job-seekers from the rural areas have combined to create a housing crisis.

Addis ranks as the city with the highest altitude above sea level in Africa. Combine this with the virtual non-existence of traffic signs and speed limits within the city, and you have an exciting, chaotic city to drive in. Khat-chewing drivers of mini-bus taxis called ‘blue donkeys’ and vintage Russian Ladas’ speed erratically across the city. Despite this, Addis seems to work and in the six weeks I worked there I only witnessed one major accident.

Incredibly proud of their city, people from Addis boast that the crime rate is the lowest in Africa. They are also proud there are no junk food outlets. One of my Ethiopian friends was convinced about the link between crime and junk food !

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Cairo, Egypt.

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Cairo, Egypt.

The two images from Egypt were photographed in the oldest part of Cairo in 2006 with the intention of including them in an exhibition called ‘Abstract Egypt’ held at the Focus Contemporary gallery.

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Kromdraai, Gauteng.

A small community of marginalised people whose seasonal  income came from harvesting garlic.

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‘Peacemakers’, an informal group of drummers and drum majorettes from Munsieville township.

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Ethiopia , Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopia , Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopia , Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopia , Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopia , Addis Ababa.

These photographs were captured while working on the Ethiopian leg of a film called ‘Mandela’s gun’ in Addis Ababa. Photographed from a moving taxi on the way to location they illustrate a few things about contemporary Addis : A vast amount of road construction, ancient taxis , no traffic rules, limited western advertising, an absence of junk food. the covering of buildings under construction in blue plastic sheeting.

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Kolfe military base , Ethiopia

The building behind the soldiers is where Nelson Mandela stayed  while undergoing military training in Ethiopia in 1961.

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  1. Photos by Dave Robertson,  All these images were photographed using two vintage 35mm panoramic cameras – the Widelux and the Horizon.

There is one comment

  1. Barry Barclay

    Hi Dave, Hats off Dude absolutely fabulous work uniquely presented. Congratulations!!

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