Unequal Scenes almost didnt happen
“That’s what these photos really show, is a vision of the past that is actually a warning for the future.”
It’s true, the project almost dissolved into apathy on a completely windless Saturday morning. In Cape Town the sun is usually shining, as it was on that day, but it’s rare to not have ANY wind. And the day was perfectly still, perfect for drone flying.
Up to that point I had been focusing on tourism-type videos — beaches, sunsets, beautiful windy roads — everything that the city is famous for. The kinds of videos that rack up millions of views and are hosted on travel blogs. I didn’t yet know what I was going to do with these videos I was creating, but it was fun, and I saw it as good practice, a way to explore my city. More than anything else, it was a way to fulfill my resolution for the year, which I was very much dedicated to follow: Make more time for personal projects.
I had worked so long for other people, I could hardly call myself an artist. “What does an artist do?” I thought at the beginning of 2016. “He creates.” I realized that I was spending all my time, my valuable time, on other people’s projects. I wasn’t creating, I was regurgitating. I was a hand that drew for someone else’s mind. I was a hired gun.
Some people work as hired guns their whole lives. But I didn’t want to. I needed to speak, to create, to make work that was authentically mine. Something inside me that morning stirred. I was sick of feeling like someone else’s mouthpiece. And so I picked up the drone on that Saturday morning and headed out the door.
I had conceived of an “Unequal Scenes” type visual project for a few years, way before I bought the drone. The location that caught my eye was a peculiar set of neighborhoods near the beach town of Muizenberg, a popular destination just south of Cape Town. As I drove towards the beach, I noticed that the very poor neighborhoods that I was driving through suddenly changed into a beautiful, upscale community with houses arranged alongside man-made canals. This is the community of Marina Da Gama, which sits just across the road from a huge informal settlement, Vrygond, and nearby to one of the most dangerous areas in the Cape Flats, Lavender Hill.
It wasn’t just the difference in wealth which surprised me. It was the barren strip of “no man’s land” which separated the two.
I had traveled to Berlin during college and the similarities of the empty space immediately struck me as similar to the cleared space adjacent to the Berlin Wall. Valid or not, the idea of a barren strip of land for easy identification of interlopers struck me as chilling.
So on that Saturday morning as I drove to that empty strip of no man’s land, I knew I wanted to follow that initial inspiration, and focus on the empty space between the neighborhoods. The no man’s lands, the fences, the roads and the rivers. The power they hold in their nothingness, their absence. The power I saw in them as negative space in the “between” far outweighed any profoundness of the neighborhoods as “separate”.
But the location wasn’t perfect to fly from. It felt too exposed, too dangerous. So I carried on. The next location I came to was near Masiphumelele, has safer areas to fly from.
I was disappointed in myself for not having the courage to fly over Vrygond/Marina Da Gama. I still remember the anti-climatic feeling after shooting Masiphumelele/Lake Michelle, thinking that I had missed an opportunity and made up with something second-rate.
Only later that night, when the image began to be viewed by thousands of people, did I realize that it’s in the unplanned moments that life happens.