The American photographer spent a decade documenting daily life in the same township in South Africa
When Anne Rearick first visited South Africa on holiday in 2004, she felt deeply uncomfortable. “Apartheid still felt really present,” she says. “As a white person I hated it, I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
Days before she left, a woman who worked in Rearick’s accommodation invited her to visit Langa, a township in which she lives, in a suburb of Cape Town. Rearick spent the day walking around and making portraits, and, upon developing her prints back at home in the US, she knew she had to return.
“Seeing those images, I thought about survival,” says Rearick. “All of my work has been about survival in some ways. In South Africa, it was about physical and economic survival.”
Images from Township: Life After Apartheid (2004-2014) are currently being shown in an exhibition at Festival du Regard in Cergy, France, alongside Rearick’s 12-year project made in the French Basque Country, Basque Heartland (1990-2002). “The projects are made almost a decade apart, but there is a thread that runs through them,” says Rearick. “Both works are about beauty and universal values, and looking for the best in ourselves.”
Before picking up her first camera at 26, Rearick was a waitress at a Rock and Roll bar in Massachusetts. One day, she decided to buy herself a Canon AE-1, and began making portraits of her colleague, a single mother, and her daughter. “It was the strangest thing. I don’t know why but I just was so drawn to this woman and her daughter,” says Rearick, who continued to photograph them for two years.
This unhurried and considered approach has continued throughout Rearick’s career, partly a result of shooting with a Hasselblad, but mainly due to the importance she places on building relationships with her subjects. “It comes from being shy, and not feeling like I have the right to be there,” she says. “I want to take time to form real relationships, and to make sure it’s an honest exchange.”
Over the 10 years that Rearick worked in Langa, the photographer would frequently hear about stabbings and rapes in the local area, and was witness to poverty and grief on a daily basis. “I saw some horrendous things,” she says, “but I wanted my work to show what I found beautiful and moving.”
Rearick photographed funerals and church services, capturing grief and mourning, but also ritual and empowerment. “Those moments are really precious,” she says. “I always question, who does that picture serve? That’s a constant inner dialogue.”
But interacting, and making connections with people is why Rearick continues to make photographs. “To be able to meet someone because of my camera, and to hear their amazing stories – for me, it’s this exchange that is the richest part of the whole thing.”
Basque Heartland and Township are exhibited at Festival du Regard until 14 July 2019.