Subscribe to Granta today

The Work of Mikhael Subotzky

|

Decaying grandeur has a strange allure. Those imperious structures that once represented wealth and power, crumbled out of context by man’s destruction and nature’s ruthless erosion. Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s photographs of the dystopian Ponte City in Johannesburg intrigue for exactly this reason. To look at their images is to enter a compelling tale, narrated by the reassuring voice of the local griot. They lead you with authority through an unfamiliar and intimidating environment.

Subotzky’s work in particular is profoundly sensitive for one so young. The stories are preserved with an immediacy that grips – but is in no way gratuitous. Like any good story-teller his presence is unobtrusive, allowing the viewer to absorb the atmosphere. Anyone with even a hint of claustrophobia will squirm at the very thought of the conditions we see in ‘Die Vier Hoeke’, Subotzky’s photographs of Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in Cape Town. The Ponte City photo essay speaks in a similar voice. As with the prison series, it stresses the space that controls the movements and choices of the individual – recalling Michel Foucault’s meditations on space, power and control.

Claustrophobia is a recurring theme in Subotzky’s work, but what is arresting about this collection of images, particularly the series of window shots, is the individuality that defiantly peeks through a coarse thicket of decay. It is as though watercolour prints of a city skyline have been ‘crowdsourced’, as each canvas is individually customised. The composition of these photographs depicts each window as a collage. Layers of idiosyncratic objects are framed with ghostly silhouettes, creating images of contrast and solemn beauty.

Subotzky is unremitting in his documentation of an underexposed South Africa, but the Ponte City series also displays an intimacy that contrasts vividly with the building’s bleak exterior. See the domestic scenes in which the lively colour of a young girl’s dress illustrates warmth and a touching dynamic among a family making home in quarters designed for one. Or gaze as the bathing couple seemingly at ease with sharing such an intimate moment with the world. Irony echoes in the vacant hallways of this building, whose seductive marketing material sells an experience with the exhortation ‘LIVE YOUR LIFE’.

Although Ponte City was conceived as a monument to aspiration in a country trying to embrace universal capitalism, it ultimately represents South Africa’s failure to develop an infrastructure that could contain the inevitable fallout from apartheid and its resulting class structure. If this summer’s World Cup is even a tenth of the spectacle witnessed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a cloying fairytale of smiles and colour will be the prevailing image. We need artists like Subotzky and Waterhouse who choose to expose the reality beneath the sugar-coated façade.

To see the photo essay ‘Ponte City’, you can buy Granta 109 in our online shop.

Michael Salu is artistic director at Granta.

Comments (26)

You need to create an account or log in to comment.

  1. Makiavelo

    Wed Feb 03 20:49:50 GMT 2010

    Subotzky's work leaves no one indifferent.

    I like it.

    Greetings.

    #
  2. yoedhacom@gmail.com

    Sun Jan 12 07:20:05 GMT 2014

    Feed him a dry food especially made for puppies. Watch out for very high protein and extra vitamins as they may be harmful to your growing puppy. Feed him two or three times a day. Usually after fifteen minutes, the pup will have eaten all they want, so you can remove the dish.
    http://www.yoedha.com/2013/12/tempat-karaoke-di-hello-fktv-maksimal.html
    http://www.onetashakir.com/2013/12/tempat-karaoke.html
    http://www.dicintai.net/2013/12/tempat-karaoke.html

    #
  3. steve7876

    Wed Jan 15 05:12:11 GMT 2014

    YachtBooker is an global reservation program with regard to Yacht Rental. The system http://www.houltoninstitute.com/aspca/ helps rental corporations disbursing their rental fleets in order to rental providers world-wide.

    #
  4. ap9gb6c

    Mon Dec 16 10:16:40 GMT 2013

    YachtBooker is an international reservation system for Yacht Charter. The system enables charter companies distributing their charter fleets to charter agents worldwide
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5934236/yacht_charter_reservation_system_yachtbooker_com/

    #
  5. dev01

    Sat Mar 22 06:12:26 GMT 2014

    I adapted the module coarse (solder balls do the rest) using a vacuum collection device - somewhat freebie that comes with the reflow station. I attempted to be quick enough, so the board doesn't cool too. And thanks for nice thoughts about How to get boyfriend. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5kyrxEcodU

    #
  6. mas candu

    Sat Apr 12 11:28:04 BST 2014

    This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck.

    http://mascandu.com/
    http://mascandu.com/pokerkiukiu-com-agen-judi-poker-dan-domino-uang-asli-indonesia/
    http://mascandu.com/senangpoker-com-agen-judi-poker-online-terpercaya-indonesia/

    #
  7. palunyathor

    Tue Apr 15 12:30:44 BST 2014

    thank you, im interesting to your post

    hijab www.hijabcommunity.com

    hijab community www.hijabcommunity.com

    jenis jenis kain untuk hijab http://www.hijabcommunity.com/jenis-jenis-kain-untuk-hijab/

    #
  8. dev01

    Wed Mar 26 06:29:50 GMT 2014

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? http://taoofbadassreviewz.weebly.com

    #
  9. palunyathor

    Tue Apr 15 12:30:44 BST 2014

    thank you, im interesting to your post

    hijab www.hijabcommunity.com

    hijab community www.hijabcommunity.com

    jenis jenis kain untuk hijab http://www.hijabcommunity.com/jenis-jenis-kain-untuk-hijab/

    #
  10. johnsmith3289115

    Mon Apr 07 07:34:00 BST 2014

    Interesting. I would agree that focusing on growth vs cost control during the early stages of a business is ideal, however, there will be a point when that shifts.
    http://www.klasson.ee/

    #
  11. polo2014

    Sun Apr 06 08:42:51 BST 2014

  12. polo2014

    Sun Apr 06 08:42:25 BST 2014

  13. Dewa Poker

    Fri Jan 17 17:03:20 GMT 2014

    Excellent ideas! The way you laid out this post made a lot of sense http://www.mahapoker.com/ Dewa Poker. You really helped me and http://www.mahapoker.com/ Permainan Poker this was exactly what I was looking for. You made it http://www.mahapoker.com/ Poker Online very easy for me to understand, and it greatly helped me out http://www.mahapoker.com/ Game Poker. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say http://www.mahapoker.com/ Poker Online Indonesia
    For those guys who are looking for http://www.mahapoker.com/ Agen Poker a high quality essay writing services there is a good http://www.mahapoker.com/ Poker Uang Asli news for them because now they can make best essay with http://www.mahapoker.com/ Agen Poker Online the help of high quality services http://www.mahapoker.com/support/carabermain.html Cara Bermain Poker

    #
  14. steve7876

    Fri Jan 31 15:42:20 GMT 2014

    Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation.<a href="http://www.linensfactory.co.uk/towels.html">Wholesale Towel Supplier</a>

    #
  15. Ooge

    Fri Mar 21 10:50:02 GMT 2014

    After examine a few of the weblog posts on your web site now, and I really like your way of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark web site record and will be checking again soon. Pls take a look at my website online as well and let me know what you think.
    http://sahabatpoker.com/
    http://pokerbintang.info
    http://pokerbintang.info/seluk-beluk-kepopuleran-poker-online/
    http://pokerbintang.info/belajar-poker-sambil-bersosialisasi-di-zynga-poker/
    http://pokerbintang.info/tips-mendapat-chips-bernilai-besar-di-poker-facebook/
    http://cmobet.com/sbobet/
    http://cmobet.com/ibcbet/

    #
  16. dev01

    Fri Mar 21 11:01:31 GMT 2014

    I'm very comfortable to seek out this web site about How to get boyfriend. I needed to thanks for this immense learn!! I absolutely having fun with each petite little bit of it and I've you bookmarked to check out new substance you post. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CEnF_Rc0Xs

    #
  17. steve7876

    Sat Feb 01 11:53:29 GMT 2014

    Id need to check with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make folks feel. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!<a href="http://www.linensfactory.co.uk/towels.html">Hotel Towels in Bulk</a>

    #
  18. Kirea

    Sat Feb 01 13:30:38 GMT 2014

    Okay, I can agree with your point of view. I'm waiting for more information about that from you! http://budujmieszkanie.info.pl

    #
  19. johnsmith3289115

    Sat Apr 05 08:04:34 BST 2014

    Nice information, valuable and excellent design, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which I need, thanks to offer such a helpful information here.
    <a href="http://ble34.com">Woodworking</a>

    #
  20. show12345

    Thu Mar 27 15:39:19 GMT 2014

    I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful
    Fernando Medina<a href="http://drpaullubitz.tumblr.com/">Learn about Dr Paul Lubitz</a>

    #