Last year I created one of my first photo stories surrounding Johannesburg and life on the street. My intention was to capture the livelihood of the street and the fact that there is a means to an end governed by hardship and productive of the most incredible character.
At the time I was conducting some research and came across a renowned economic data collector, which affirmed that “the unemployment rate in South Africa was last reported at 25.7 percent in the second quarter of 2011”. Nearly a quarter of the legal citizens in this country are unemployed and unable to provide for themselves.
Street-side wheelers and dealers are no strangers to the South African eye. These hard working men and women litter the curbs performing in accordance with the ritual changes of the traffic lights, and dance beside the lips of open windows. Their prevalence is particularly spectacular in Johannesburg where the career opportunities seem endless.
Some street-side dwellers weren’t willing to have their picture taken or be spoken to. It seemed as though someone had been there before and taken advantage of their situation. It concerned me to think that were others out with with such cruel intentions and I began my journey thoroughly disheartened, thinking that perhaps my notions were obsolete.
Then I met Angelina Ngwenya, a South African citizen who moves her spaza shop around the streets of Johannesburg attempting to avoid having her produce and wares confiscated by the police. “I get many customers but the Metropolitan police come and take my stuff”, she says. Angelina arrives on the corner of Jan Smuts and Loch at 5.30 in the morning to sell her homemade vetkoek and fresh fruit to regular passers by.
Angelina and her daughters, who also work as her assistants, have to leave their corner by 10.30 a.m to avoid looking suspicious. The police has often targeted her stall in the past and confiscated her goods. “We have been here for about two months, but soon we must go”. The tension between the law and making a living is prominent and goes without saying, despite the fact that this is her only means of income.
The Johannesburg street-side workers are well acquainted; the community is tightly knit and their friendship, or rather camaraderie is palpable . Angelina’s daughter and newspaper salesman, Oscar Mnganga are happy at ‘their’ street light on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Loch Street. “This is where we work and we are busy. People are always coming here and helping us”. Both young adults are supported by their work on the street.
The street side community is a home to many people attempting to escape the squalor. Individuals like Angelina and Oscar roam the roads doing their best to prevent the onslaught of poverty that is so familiar to South Africa.
The plight of others breaks your perceptions and rejects your notions of normality, I find this is especially so when it comes to the imagery of a situation. Photography has given me a means through which to convey the importance of aspect, outlook and perspective.
This is only the beginning.