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Monday, September 14, 2015


(Work by Graeme Williams)

The KZNSA is hosting Graeme Williams, the third winner of the Ernest Cole Award, on the second leg of a national tour to launch his book and exhibition, A City Refracted. The award is managed by UCT Libraries (see

The images in the exhibition symbolically reflect the shifting typographies of the inner city of Johannesburg. Using an experimental style, his work suggests waves of movement and migration.

Williams presents the following potted history within his introduction: “A potted history: original inhabitants of the geographical space that is now known as Johannesburg, the San, were displaced in the 13th century by Bantu-speaking livestock farmers who migrated south in search of richer grazing land. In the early 1830s, Dutch-speaking Voortrekkers ‘trekked’ north displacing the Bantu.

“The discovery of gold in the 1880s led to the gold rush that brought fortune-seekers from around the world. In the early years of the 20th century the British defeated the Boers and occupied Johannesburg. Under colonial and later apartheid rule, people of colour were pushed out of the city to establish whites-only communities.

“In the early 1990s the African National Congress was unbanned and the first democratic elections were held. This led to black people moving back into the city and for a while there was a mix of races living side-by-side. Slowly the city became almost exclusively black as whites moved out to the suburbs. As the country opened its borders, immigrants seeking jobs and a richer life, started streaming to the city. For a time Johannesburg, became a real cosmopolitan African city.

“However, soon South Africans began to resent the intrusion of foreigners and the business skills that they possessed. Xenophobic attacks against immigrants became more prevalent and the inner city began a further process of fragmentation. People originating from a particular country or area within Africa now gravitate towards particular buildings or city blocks within the city.”

Williams’s book is accompanied by a text by acclaimed writer and academic Leon de Kock who grew up in a changing and robust Johannesburg. As he reflects on the city, “Joburg remains a city that has perfected the art of the urban ugly. It’s in the built environment, the spatial arrangements, the social order, and the criminal underground (never too far from the mining underground). It’s in the city’s genes, its historical coding as a fighting-ring for fortune hunters. Crime and Capitalism are interlocked in its founding charters, and these two C’s are enduring reference points for Johannesburg’s ugly as much as for its beautiful, regardless of the blur of change with which Egoli wipes out permanence in almost every other sense.”

A City Refracted has already enjoyed international exposure and recognition. A selection of images from the series was exhibited at the prestigious Aperture Summer Open Exhibition in New York in 2014 to showcase contemporary photography. Images were also chosen for The World Atlas of Street Photography published by Yale University Press and Thames & Hudson in 2014, stating that Williams, “has developed a language of street photography to create highly subjective views of Johannesburg. They portray less about the outside world and more about his internal wars”. The Huffington Post acknowledged Williams as one of the “10 international street photographers who change the way we see the world”. A short film presenting the essay and the photographer was shown at the Rencontres de la photographie festival in Arles, France this year.

A City Refracted runs until September 27 in the Main Gallery of the KZNSA at 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, in Durban. More information on 031 277 1703, fax 031 201 8051 or cell 082 220 0368 or visit