Photographic Feature Work

Photography Alone Can Freeze A Moment In Time…

photos and words John Robinson

Some Public Spaces in the City of Durban

Every place that is inhabited by the human race has some private space and space that is public. Private space is that which is owned by the individual, like the home, the school, the workplace. Or where the ‘Right of Admittance’ sign is hung. Public space is all else, the streets, the squares, the parks, the open market places and the beaches. Public space is that area where the human collective can freely come and go. It is in the public space too that that collective human spirit is most clearly seen.

The City of Durban is on the east coast of South Africa, Durban has many public spaces, these are just some of them.

Durban is the second largest populated area in South Africa after Johannesburg. The city has the second-largest subcontinental population in the world after India and besides isiZulu and English, you can hear Urdu, French, Kiswahili, Afrikaans, Portuguese, Mandarin, Dutch and German on Durban streets. The flavour of Durban is changing too, the city is becoming the home of a central and west African community as the conflict in the Great Lakes region and the economic possibilities in South Africa make Durban a viable option for these people. Also, Durban is a cost-effective tourism choice for many other people. The city is warm all year round and a bit laid back too. In the central business area of the city bowl, you could also be anywhere in Africa or Pakistan or India. On the beachfront, you could be in Rio de Janeiro.

These pictures have come out of connecting with some Durban urban spaces as a commuter bicyclist. These areas are ones that I as a cyclist have ridden through and stopped, looked around and looked again. Some are endpoints in travels and some are waypoints, others are surprises that only after some thought that their significance was realised. But they all are spaces that people of Durban have claimed for their use.

These pictures have all been taken on an iPhone 6 mobile phone camera, working this way a photographer can hide in plain sight. There are so many people in these places taking selfies that any photographer fades into the collective conscious of these places as just another selfie taker…

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South Beach, exhibited at ART SPACE, Durban, South Africa.                                            Photos and words John Robinson

South Beach is a part of the City of Durban’s longest uninterrupted stretch of beach sand. The City of Durban is on the eastern seaboard of South Africa and the people here are washed with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. To the north of this stretch of sand are beaches with cafe society hangouts. To the south, there is a pier with the upmarket Moyo’s Restaurant at its end and the uShaka Marine World complex and the private surf and sea clubs of the Vetches Beach area. Between these northern and southern affluent areas lies this long uninterrupted and relatively undeveloped stretch of beach sand. It’s along this beach that some of the ‘scatterlings’ of Africa come to be alone, sleep, pray, walk, swim, surf, work, commune with another, or just the sea sand and water.

On this uninterrupted length of the beach, I am alone with my thoughts, with just a few seagulls for company. It takes me over an hour to walk its length and when I walk along the sands, these are some of the many people who have also taken some time out of their day for the same.

I asked the people that I met only three questions; Where are you from. What do you do here and What do you like about this beach.

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Jika Joe, entered for The Ernest Cole Photographic Award.                                                 Photos and words John Robinson

Jika Joe straddles both banks of the Dorpspruit River in the centre of the City of Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu Natal. Jika Joe is just one of many informal settlements in South Africa; its bulk is made of mud, wood and card shacks. The roofs of Jika Joe are tarpaulin blown off passing trucks on the N3 highway, sheet metal and bits of hardboard. Squeezed in between these dwellings are walkways and common areas where people walk, talk and get together; and the children play. There is no centralised system ordering life as in the city’s surrounding suburbs, but rather many slumlords who rent out small rooms to others who need a place to stay close to their place of work in the CBD.
Since the elections in 1994 more people not less have looked to informal settlements to gain a toe hold in the ‘New South Africa’, the system of RDP housing has not kept up with these people’s demand for a spot in the urban areas.
The sight of these self-built homes on open tracts of South African land is not going to go away anytime soon…

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The Breast Milk Bank. Photos John Robinson

The WHO, UNICEF and UNAIDS guidelines recommend that all HIV positive mothers feed their babies exclusively with breast milk for the first six months of life. The Nursery Unit at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban South Africa has set up an in-unit breast milk bank managed by a trained health care worker that trains mothers to flash heat their milk when needed and also bank the human milk for use where another baby in the unit does not have access to this life-giving milk. This simple method makes safe the mother’s milk by destroying all virus and microbes present but preserving the nutritional value of natural mother’s milk. KING EDWARD VIII HOSPITAL, DECEMBER 2011, DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA.

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Painful Feet. Published by BBC. Photos and words John Robinson

The access to expert orthopaedic care for the outpatients at the MANGUZI, MOSFOLD and BETHESDA GOVERNMENT HOSPITALS has meant access to the special care needed by those who from birth, illness and or physical trauma are left with a very real need for orthopaedic care and or prosthetic assistance. The hills, fields and plains of the far northern KwaZulu-natal region are isolated, and the infrastructure is not good. The work carried out in these clinics provides the walkers, irons and prosthetics that make a change to those who without this service would be left to stumble on with their lives in a place that is less than conducive to those with less than a perfect body. The clinics that this co-operation facilitates has helped children to walk upright, corrected small defects for others and allowed a subsistence farmer the ability to manage the planting of her field of beans and the restored the pride to another to father and provide for his family once again.
Images shot in Public Hospitals in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, February 2009, South Africa.

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Life Among The Dead. Published by BBC. Photos and words John Robinson

The flowered field has called once again, “come and return to the slopes of the dead once again.” Come and see if things are as they were on that day you last laid down the dead.
Clouds skid low over this place, brooding over the fields of the dead. Mountain Rise Cemetery, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa is a place where simple wood crosses stand in place of their final claims.
‘Bread cutters’ are the rugged brush cutters operated by men and woman dressed in black. fitted with a mask and gloves they scythe their way through the grass that covers the grave markers and wooden crosses.
The pastors and ladies of the church sway in tune with the songs of departing. Grandmothers and small children stand and watch the casket of one who should have been shouldering the dead. Instead, he is lowered into his own fresh grave. Between these young and old, some sell ice cream. Others parade in the latest fashions and watch the ongoing ceremony of the dead.
Rocks and clumps of grass are placed on the filled grave. A number is placed at the foot of the grave, the cross carries the name, age and date of the one who has just joined the many in this place.
A young woman leads her grandmother across the field she looks for the place that her mother lies, picking weeds away from the soil that covers the spot she makes thing as best as she can and waits for the old woman to finish her prayers. The old woman will be walked away and the cutters will be kings and queens of this place once again.
Clouds form a backdrop against which birds rise out of the long grass, they lift into the sky with songs of life, they are not of this dead, yet they are the dead’s only hope of retaining a simple celebration of life in this place.
(Author’s note. Though Pietermaritzburg is recognised as an epicentre of global HIV infection, and though there are now over 30 undertakers operating in the city, due to a lack of concrete medical records is unlikely that anybody will ever really know who was, in the end, a victim of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.)

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Visiting Mom. Published by Sunday Independent. Photos John Robinson

At the time when my mother’s independence failed her, my daughter Erin (1) was just developing hers. These seven images are aspects of an interaction between an old lady at the end of her life and a little girl who is only starting.
We are all somewhere between these two points. These images were taken during my family visits to the frail care centre where my mother spent the last few months of her life on this earth.

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Louis – My Area. Exhibited at The Johannesburg Biennial. Photos John Robinson

Louis is 9 years old. He lives with his mother and sister in Johannesburg, South Africa. Louis has spinal muscular dystrophy.

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