The Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation For Documentary Photography & Film
2015 Film Laureate – Laurence Bonvin
Project: Sounds of Blikkiesdorp
Region/Impact: Human Rights, Social Issues and Urban Displacement in Cape Town, South Africa
Officially named Symphony Way Temporary Location Area, Blikkiesdorp (Afrikaans for “Tin Town”), as it is better known, is a government-built housing settlement near the Cape Town airport.
Remote, exposed to the elements, hazardous: no one really chooses to live there. Some of the people living in Blikkiesdorp were forcefully resettled there in 2009, shortly before the 2010 World Cup. The “temporary” residents were promised better, permanent housing, which remains on the distant horizon after all these years. For the interim, they were to be provided with all basic services, a promise that has gone sorely unfulfilled. The settlement evokes the atmosphere of an internment camp, with its regular rows of uniform building structures, the barren, dusty environment, the fence that encloses it and the police station surveilling the entrance. Each structure is 3 x 6 metres in size, and is expected to house whole families up to 8–10 people. Some units have a concrete floor, but none of them have insulation, running water or a sink, cooking facilities or toilets. A separate toilet structure must be shared by 4 housing units.
Sounds of Blikkiesdorp offers a minimal immersion into this “temporary location area” originally built for a population of 1,600 residents, which is now sheltering 25,000 by many estimates. Despite very harsh living conditions and the uncertainty of their future, the people encountered do all they can to improve their homes and to make a living. In this place of violence, informality and resourcefulness, music becomes the link between their dwellings and the alleys between them, as the soundtrack of Blikkiesdorp.
I returned to Blikkiesdorp in 2012, two years after I had produced a series of photographs that was centred on its architecture and urban context. I was still interested in finding a way to address the human side of Blikkiesdorp. So I decided to make a short film that was more about the people, and how some of them had improved their homes and daily life creatively. While filming, music became so present that it could not be kept out. Later, in the editing room, it became clear to me that it should be a protagonist in the film, the invisible factor that makes the permeability and promiscuity of the spaces perceptible.
Both the film and the photographs can be shown independently. To showcase these two formal approaches, I have also developed an architectural installative version that includes a projection box for the film and large-scale photographic wallpapers.