From a distance, Alex looks interesting. The closer you get, the harder it is to see. It can be beautiful, in a flowering African Thorn Bush kind of way. The flowers are pretty–sort of. The thorns can do some real damage. Among the thorns in Alex, there is an energy, growing, changing. In spite of the harshness of conditions, there was a softness in the faces of people. Not all were willing to let me take their picture. Some approached with angry words. Others turned away or hid. But, for those who stood their ground or gave permission, I could see a light, hard light perhaps, in their eyes. The noon-day sun did not make for the best photographs. However, in the hard light of the noon-day sun, when I put on my sunglasses, I could see hope.
It was noon and the sun was directly overhead. Hot. And Humid. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The hard light cast hard shadows. Appropriate–in Alex, life is hard. One of the poorest urban areas in South Africa, Alexandra Township is part of Johannesburg and is home to nearly 200,000 souls. Many do not have running water, or proper sanitation. Many live in informal shacks made of corrugated metal or cinderblock brick. Unemployment is high. Drugs are rampant and gangs compete with law for control. When I entered Alex to take pictures, I stood out dramatically–white on black, with hard shadows. The harsh light was not what I would have chosen for good pictures. Nevertheless, the time of day was a metaphor for life in Alex–harsh and hard. In this post I wanted to show some of the conditions inside. Partial understanding comes through knowing. Tomorrow I’ll show their faces.