In 2007, Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse began a six-year project about the infamous Johannesburg skyscraper. Now, a new addition to the work focuses on its dystopian core — an almost 200-metre long abyss running up its centre
In the first of a new series focusing on work made in isolation, the South African photographer discusses her collaborative approach to portraiture
“I have still never seen the first work I made as a photographer,” says Sabelo Mangleni, who started his career as a delivery boy for a local photographer in his hometown in Driefontein, four hours drive east of Johannesburg. The photographer he worked for had been asked to shoot a wedding but, unable to attend herself, asked Mangleni to cover it – sending him off with a camera around his neck and a crash course in photography. After the wedding the newlyweds quickly picked out the images they wanted to remember their day with – so quickly, Mangleni never got to see them.
Still, the experience of looking for a good photograph and working with people from within a community, got him hooked, and in 2001 Mangleni moved to Johannesburg and joined the Market Photo Workshop. Set up by renowned documentary photographer David Goldblatt in 1989, this well-respected organisation supported young black photographers during apartheid South Africa.
It was an excellent start in photography, but arriving in Johannesburg, Mangleni felt alienated. “I couldn’t understand what people were saying,” he says, describing the struggle to communicate with people in English, which he was still learning at the time. To avoid speaking, he channelled his feelings into photographs of the buildings and architecture, which lead to his first, and ongoing, series Big City.
“David Goldblatt wanted to remove his judgement from his photography,” says Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, the Centre Pompidou curator who worked on a huge retrospective of Goldblatt’s work, shown at the institution earlier this year.
“He always said that if a photograph serves a certain idea, even if it’s a good idea, the idea always takes precedence and the photography then contains a judgement. He felt that he should record the facts, and leave the judgement to the viewer.”
“The project is about the traces the ‘invisible world’ leaves on our world,” says 36-year-old Virginie Rebetez. “I don’t like the word ‘witchcraft’ – it has bad connotations. In Europe, we are afraid of people who communicate with the invisible world, but there are many ways of explaining events. I am also fascinated by the South African imagery that relates to this world of ‘spirits’ and the way in which characters and animals feature in rituals.” Born in Lausanne, Rebetez worked on the project two years ago during a four-month residency in South Africa organised by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council. “I’m interested in the invisible world in general – how we communicate with it, what it is and so on. Johannesburg is not an easy place to arrive and work in by yourself, especially if you are white and working on this kind of subject. But through the residency I met people who helped me.” Rebetez, one of 10 emerging photographers selected to exhibit at last year’s Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography, met with experts in …