The relationship between people and their God is a soulful place, belief is such a strong force; and there is very little that can break that system. I know this from my own relationship with God or Abba Father. I commune and walk in this space too.

To take out a camera in a place of worship is not something I can do lightly, I have to be trusted and walk through these flowers with out a hint of damage, each picture will be seen by those in that place and as a fellow worshipper I am not an outsider that can get away and never come back after the stems are broken and petals crushed.

The moments taken are considered first before committed to a place in the public space. I also know of no better tool then a 35mm film based rangefinder camera for this work, there is no hurry in this way of work; and thus plenty of time for the considering of the fall out from my actions on the day…



In a colab with DJ Castle, Castle & Robinson has come about, Castle & Robinson is the joining of a DJ and myself as an event photographer to provide the music and a record of peoples house parties, clubs and events in around Durban, South Africa…

While Reclining one Saturday afternoon in ‘Little Nigeria’ (South Beach) Durban, South Africa…

The men are drinking quarts of Black Label upstairs while the woman folk are rubbing  down my host’s wife with peanut butter and tomato sauce in the courtyard at the back of the building in a well humoured anticipation of an addition to the host’s family.

The man talk is of a celebrity visit to South Beach; and there are strong views on this issue: will South Beach be graced to this magnitude or will the area once again be left out in the cold?

The blue walls of this building contain dramas that could feed a T.V. series for a season or two.  Outside in “piss alley” the road is controlled by the Congolese, inside the building my host’s brother rules the realities of life. The building has about 14 flats rented to people who cannot afford beach front apartments on the golden mile… Little big eyes and her peanut covered mommy come back from the courtyard and her daddy is shocked by what the women have done to his babe.

The fast beats of tech music fill the background of beer and men talk all afternoon, the brothers are close and the under current of the talk is coping with life and concern that hurt is kept away from the family. Hurt and life is interrupted by asking for this or that tune to be played. Our ‘beer talk’ is mixed with two plates of cake, pretzel sticks, sweets and cookies and a bowl of sugared pop corn from the baby shower in the courtyard.

I place a blanket over the little girl who is soon to be ‘big sister,’ not even strange visitors and cartoons on the T.V. can keep her upright. My bicycle ride home is delayed by a swapping of movies and series for .jpg files of family pics I have done for the host in the past.

My ride home on Lady of Loreto, I named my bicycle after a patron saint of flying, is stopped for the fuel of a mutton curry pie on Maydon Road past the back of the Durban Port to my room in Woodlands in south Durban.







New Work…


Left to right: Teddy, Jason, Cindy and Leele. 2018, Anton Lembede Street, Durban, South Africa.

Teddy is standing in for Jason and Cindy’s soon to be expected addition to their family, Cindy is now just short of seven months pregnant. I have so much hope for this small family unit, Jason and Cindy have such a strong bond, and are soon to be married too…

A friend of mine has agreed to marry Jason and Cindy when the time is right.




Fools Only Go Where Angels Don’t Tread

I always carry my Leica M6 around with me because it has become a habit, it is my comfort blanket of sorts; and there is always a roll of colour film in it and a spare roll in my shoulder bag. Without my camera on me I have no chance of shooting a decisive moment, with my M6 on me I may just be in with a chance as it where. Decisive moments are not only in places of high drama and action worthy of front page news, often the best of them go past unnoticed. The photographer just has to be at the right place at the right time, that place can be anywhere that life is being outworked. But I am not writing about just getting out there and snapping pictures, this is about playing it forward.

I liken narrative photography to walking carefully through a flower bed, I want the telling pictures but without plowing up the space that I am working within.

The other day I took a long walk to clear my head and to put the city behind me; and the beach does that for me. I am working on a body of beach scape pictures, it’s a move from the person centric portraits of my South Beach work to a more environment centric focus of local beaches. I made a dent in the project with a few new images, but then the rest of the afternoon was quiet time for me to just absorb the space around me. I could have loaded a fresh film but the feeling to sit on the outskirts of the day’s activities and just look at what was was stronger.

Cuttings Beach is an 1.5 hour walk from where I stay in Durban South, it is just beyond a cemetery and a wetlands and between the Mondi paper mill and the SAPREF oil refinery. It was a Sunday that I felt that just looking was the better option. A large group of believers in the local Shembe faith were there alongside the normal subsistence fishermen who have made this place a home from home. By just sitting on the side I got to look deeply and enter into a conversation with one of their church elders, I came away with an understanding that will be of use next time I am communicating more fully aspects of the Shembe faith.

That day I made more then one new friend and made concrete for myself the concept of walking softly through the fields of photographic flowers.

As a narrative photographer I don’t want to be so busy taking pictures of all that is around me at the expense of first engaging with aspects of these subjects. How can I my photographs narrate fully if I as the author don’t first engage with the spaces? I want to dig below the surfaces with my images; and my conversations that Sunday opened up these narratives for future readers of photography. Instead of just a picture of an ‘unaware of it’s fate’ chicken on an African beach I can have a deeper outworking, by now knowing somethings more of the goings on of Cuttings Beach, Durban, South Africa.


Durban's People, a young model on a street fashion photo set, Bulwar Park,  Glenwood, Durban, South Africa.
Durban’s People, a young model on a street fashion photo set, Bulwar Park, Glenwood, Durban, South Africa.


As a narrative photographer I take pictures of what is around me, I don’t go into a studio situation to get a picture of say ‘two people looking meaningfully into the middle distance’ or ‘someone next to a window in the morning light.’

I once saw the Oliver Stone film Salvador with two student friends, Hamish was studying commercial photography, Bruce was studying journalism and I was a interior design student. Salvador is a film about two photogs covering the war in Salvador in South America, I came out of the cinema hyped, telling Hamish that as a photographer he should do this type of work when he was finished with his diploma, Hamish just looked at me as though I was mad. Hamish went on to be a successful commercial photographer and I went onto scraping out a living as a narrative photographer. Though both Hamish and I use the same cameras, I seem to think quite differently about photography to Hamish as a commercial photographer. I never wanted to become a war photographer as in Salvador but I have perceived life as it is around me as a photographer.

As Hamish though I was mad, I too have had a hard time understanding the ways of some other photographers in the portrayal of the human form. I posted the following on a Facebook photographic group: What is it with some (group Name) photographers and young womans bottoms and boobs? I got 10 likes and 1 reaction and the comments ranged from because I like it, I can and a sarcastic don’t you know? to the quite defensive and the inclusion of the word pornography. One photographer’s model said “if you have it flaunt it.” 

Then there was also the inclusion of the word passion and the sense of the decisive moment which I as a narrative photographer can understand too, I now think that it is something about the personal thrill of the photographer concerned in getting a preconceived concept together. Maybe it’s the same way I get a thrill when a moment came together when I have done a portrait on the streets of Durban.

I think we all as photographers have our driving forces, some forces are exclusive to the different types of photography, and other forces are common to us all.




The above moment where a young boy, accompanied by his parents gets to sit with a pilot in a South African Police Services Air Wing helicopter in a Johannesburg park depends on a ‘tripod’ for support. This tripod has the following legs; story, composition and technique.

Every photograph ever taken depends on the same 3 basic legs to get off the ground… It does not matter if you use a cell phone or a DSLR camera, it is also the same for digital and analogue pictures.

Captions are great, they give the reader of the photograph some context, but the picture has a story to tell the readers of itself too. Narrative photography is like that, the photographer catches the moment in a frame and gives it a life of its own in the form of a photographic image that carries on from there, telling others of the photographer’s encounter on that day and in that place.

I see a story of a boy engaging one on one with a man… I see a police pilot giving freely of his day to a member of the public that he serves. I see something of the time of the day and also of the time of the year, in the background I see parents willing to give a son some space to experience a Eurocopter police helicopter for himself.

The above image is also my own perception of the moment as the author of the photograph. It is just as I saw it on a high veld winter late afternoon. The composition is just as I as the photographer liked it on the day. I am also as close as I can be, “it is not good enough if you are not close enough.” I did not ‘see’ the inverted triangle of parents, son and pilot at the time but it gives the picture dynamics. I did see the curves of the joy stick and reflections while concentrating on the moment between man and boy which was paramount in my mind at the time.

My technique is simple, I use a Leica M6 rangefinder camera rather then a DSLR camera, I pre meter for exposure with a hand held incidence light meter. I use a rangefinder camera because it’s less seen by other people then a big black DSLR camera. I pre meter so I can concentrate on the moments in front of me and not on camera technicals.

In the end I let my photographs speak for me, and you as the reader can see the picture as you perceive it for yourself.




Durban in off season. Gaura Sundara a Hare Krishna devotee from Ukraine gives out flyers and booklets to passersby. September 2016, Durban, South Africa, John Robinson
Durban in off season. Gaura Sundara a Hare Krishna devotee from Ukraine gives out flyers and booklets to passersby. September 2016, Durban, South Africa, John Robinson

I am a narrative photographer working out of Durban a city on the east coast of South Africa. I have a passion for environmental portraits.

1. Get out of your personal space. I once had my own car, but I rolled it while texting at the wheel. I now use public transport to get around town; this has let me see a lot more of my city rather then just driving through concentrating only on what is in my path.

2. Be aware of the voice within yourself. I have often waited at a spot in the city on a ‘whim’ or the ‘voice within’ and a moment as above has come together before my eyes. Concentrate on what is around you rather then on exact compositions. Let the moments just speak for themselves. I have general ideas of what pictures I would like, but I let my photos talk for themselves.

I just wanted a picture of a Hare Krishna devotee, but I got one of Gaura Sundara with a flank of young men passing through…

3. Use just one lens, I use a 50mm prime lens on a rangefinder camera. there are no surprises for me when I lift the camera to my eye, a 50mm lens lets me keep some distance from my subject but without giving away a sense of connection. A 50mm lens is close to the natural view of my human eye. My street photography is all about the moments out there rather then about whacky eye views.

If you are using a factored frame camera rather then full frame I would recommend a 35mm lens rather then 50mm, this will give you a view angle that is closer to human eye view.

4. If there is movement in the background, capture the moment. Many times my photographs have been enhanced by an unexpected movement in the frame. I can’t buy these additions for all the wealth in the world. It is just for me to be ready and able to press the shutter button on cue.

I use a hand held light meter while photographing on the streets, and also pre focus the camera as much as I am able. The hand held light meter sorts out the exposure issues for me so when the moment comes I can just press the button.

5. Never ‘chimp’. The moment to view your images is not on the street when taking pictures, you may just miss another moment that has been given to you, rather just carry on just taking pictures until you feel that there are no more moments for your taking; and view your images back home in front of your computer screen.

I have been using my Leica M6 camera for about 18 years, I am so used to it now, it’s like my tooth brush, I can concentrate on the clean feel in my mouth rather then on the brush itself. I feel that many photographers are more interested in their camera rather then the photographs it takes.

The camera is just a tool, if you use it right it will do the job.



It’s a cut in time, did we get it? Moments are all around us, it’s about the zone. life is like ballet, it is a stage and we all have a part; perceiver, subject and viewer are positions of need in the narrative I call photography. There is no spoon feeding here, this is not a documentary on the big screen, no sitting back with music, words and just absorption on the Lazyboy in the lounge.

Narrative photography is a place of work, no sitting back for anyone. Maybe thats why its not popular, its not for a consumptive society of lazy boys…


Hate, fear and love are also 4 letter words; and by another 4 letter word, if I don’t grapple with their out working each and every day of my life.

H is now a friend of mine; she lives just off South Beach with her husband and works in her brother’s restaurant at the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street across from the old grave yard. She makes a petite Ethiopian coffee that my homeopath should never know about, and with its clove infusion is my favorite shot of down town coffee. Her brother’s restaurant is a scent filled alcove, without a menu he serves meat and salad on a plate of injera; a sour flatbread from their home in Ethiopia. H’s coffee is roasted and brewed on charcoal in front of me, she serves it in fine porcelain that her friend G sells alongside the coffee beans from the highlands of their homeland. It is because of local ‘hate of other’ that the brother has said no to photos of H here, it is out of respect for him that H quietly shook her head to me when I took out the M6 just off this road in down town Durban.

F is fearful and is still the victim of a brutal hijacking about 3 years ago. F can’t go out at night alone, and has panic attacks in dark places.

Fear is so debilitating, it’s a part of the psyche of many people who I know around me. As an age we are preoccupied with the concept of ‘safety’, America has a department devoted to the safety of their homeland. South Africa is devoted to the issue of their ‘crime’. For all our other advances we are not a people of can do but a people of can’t do due to our fear. I would like to be able to take F for a walk along a down town street, to sample coffee with clove, I feel that it will be awhile yet before F is ready to browse for porcelain on Dr Pixley KaSeme Street. F’s fear is real, I can see it; there is nothing put on about it.

I will always love X, L and Y. But I lost my temper with L a long time ago, I did apologise and I am so sorry for what I did.

L is deeply hurt and I have to love from a distance. I live with these consequences and now know that love is not a fluffy thing. Love is deep like a river, it has a power of its own, and I have to love for all of us for now.

I will never stop loving and doing what I can for X, L and Y. I will continue to walk along side F and maybe one day we will go browse for porcelain together. I will be a friend to H and all others in little Addis Ababa on the top end of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street.

Names have been changed to protect all those involved in this down town walk of mine.