Cape Town never ceases to amaze me. Even on the dreariest of days, this city still manages to provide ample photo opportunities. I’m no professional photographer, mind you, but I’ve got a fair number of Table Mountain shots to boast about. This is the side of Cape Town we all see – the side from the travel adverts – but there is another side.
Cape Town is unfortunately one of the most unequal cities in the world, and most people who live within its boundaries don’t get the opportunity to experience life in all its areas. I caught up with Justin Sullivan, a photographer in Cape Town who has a particular interest in township life. He’s captured a number of incredible images that showcase ‘the other side’.
How do you feel Cape Town’s townships are currently represented in the media?
When photographs appear in the media from the townships, they either represent something negative or something positive. As the majority of people misunderstand these living conditions, they think that whatever they see must be true. However, these areas are more complex and more impoverished than most could ever imagine.
I’ve showcased pictures of poor kids standing with nothing and the feedback from people is that everything is so bad in the townships. I’ve then shown people braaing chicken feet, dancing and having fun – the feedback is that people are then happy in the townships.
People don’t understand the complexities of the living conditions in these areas. Yes there is happiness, love and success in the townships, but it doesn’t mean it is a happy, lovable and successful place. Nor is it the complete opposite.
How are your photographs of the city different from what we normally see, even on Cape Town Etc?
What I am trying to do with my photography is show the realities of life in areas where most people don’t get the chance to go to. I intend to not only showcase the poor living conditions, but rather give then a real perspective. Humans are becoming more and more realistic with life, and showing them a kid with a fly on its head is not real – it’s an outdated attempt at a plea for sympathy.
I don’t want to categorize people, I want to give them a voice through my work. I want to show real stories, real conditions and provide a platform for real solutions.
What are you doing to make a difference to the people you photograph?
I fund myself with the help of an organisation called Catholic Welfare Development (CWD). They are a leading and dynamic social development organisation based in Cape Town, that works with vulnerable and marginalised communities in order to improve their ability to develop and sustain self-reliance.
My photographs are used to raise awareness for their programs, raise money through appeals and tell the untold stories of the communities. I am constantly working on my own projects and not to forget my love of photographing the Cape Fires. I try to use all of my images to showcase real experiences, allowing a platform for positive discussions, solutions and funding where applicable.
What are some of your most memorable photographs?
One of the most iconic photos I’ve taken so far is of a girl sleeping on the only two pieces of furniture left in a house after a fire – see above. Another is of a baby girl staring into the only light coming into the shack after having her mother pass away – see below. This specific photo raised a lot of money for the family, as there were five kids still in school, left to fend for themselves.
I would like to encourage people to spend more time in the Cape Flats not only to help others, but to help themselves better understand the complexities of Cape Town.
Here are some of Justin’s other images:
Photography courtesy Justin Sullivan