Shifting Landmarks

Graeme Williams

2019 - Ongoing

Shifting Landmarks, documents my shift in geographical focus from South Africa to the USA. Following 30 years of intense engagement with the process of change within South Africa, I have chosen to explore the American social and political landscape. This selection of photographs traces various themes of this photographic path, highlighting the contrasts and parallels that have emerged.

During the past thirty years, I have produced essays that highlight South Africa’s passage from the trauma of apartheid into a period of hope for Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation, followed by the slow decline towards a failed state. Within my personal work, I have attempted to draw attention to societal fault lines, while simultaneously probing the photographic medium and its capacity to communicate feelings and ideas.

Although I was raised in South Africa, I was immersed in the American popular culture and ideology of the 1960s and 1970s. My youthful dreams were enmeshed with the American Dream and the photographs that defined it.

I have produced two USA-based bodies of work in recent years, both of which have received highly positive recognition.

In 2019 I embarked on a journey in order to compare my youthful perceptions of the USA with his personal experience. The resulting photographs make up the essay, America Revisited. It received an honorable mention at the ICP Awards.

Diverging Dreamlines (2016) was chosen as "best of show" in the annual photobook competition organized by the Griffin Museum of Photography (Massachusetts).

The deaths of two major figures in my life, led to my decision to transfer my focus to the USA. My friend and mentor, David Goldblatt, passed away in late 2018 and Nelson Mandela passed away five years earlier. Both of these figures inspired hope for the future of South Africa and a passion to be involved in it’s transformation. Working for Reuters News Agency in the early 1990s, I photographed Mandela walking out of the Victor Verster Prison gates after 27 years of incarceration. Unfortunately, since his death in 2013 the country’s potential has been undermined by corruption, poverty and crime.

I felt that is was an opportune time to unravel the Gordian knot of photographic influences that have shaped my visual identity and reassess my photographic DNA.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • Phutanang township, Kimberley, South Africa. 2011. A torn tablecloth dries in the wind.

  • Suburbs of Harrisburg, USA. 2016. The only splash of colour within a monotonous sprawl of houses.

  • Mookgophong, South Africa. 2017. Tony's Cash and Carry has closed up shop as the country's economy slides into freefall.

  • Tucumcari, New Mexico. USA. 2019. The fifties clad mannequin looks out onto the fading town of Tucumcari, that during its Route 66 heyday boasted 2000 motel rooms and many years before that, was that was nicknamed “Six Shooter Siding”, the haunt of wild cowboys and outlaws.

  • Upington, South Africa. 2011. A cheap painting is used to block a broken window.

  • Mineral Wells, Texas, USA. 2019. Mineral Well’s Baker Hotel built in 1929, was one of the country’s most glamorous resorts for about 25 years and is now a boarded up monument to the past. A block or two away, I came across an abandoned apartment. Each room was decorated with care and it still retained the character of a family home
    with a strong sense of belonging. Although I was aware of my voyeuristic interest, I explored it with reverence and when leaving, I closed the front door gently as if I had been an invited guest.

  • Thokoza, near Johannesburg, 1990. The photograph marks a turning point in South African history, following Nelson Mandela's release from prison. At this rally, addressed by Mandela, the young boys taunt the police - an unlikely event during apartheid.

  • Dallas, Texas, USA. 2019. X-marks the spot where JFK was shot. There was something disturbing about looking down from the grassy knoll onto the prosaic X painted on the road and the endless stream of tourists trying to squash themselves and the cross into a selfie frame.

  • Glen Cowie, South Africa. 2005. A woman peers out of her dressmaking shop.

  • Hall Manor, Harrisburg, USA. 2016. Louis Jesus watches as his neighbours are photographed. Lazaro and Ruth Rodriquez with their child Alexandria.

  • Johannesburg, South Africa. 2014. Street photographer, Somewhere Ndlovu, poses in front of his portable studio. He is a refugee from Zimbabwe, trying to make a living in Johannesburg. He says, ‘The local police often harass me and make my life difficult because I am a foreigner.’

  • Uptown, Harrisburg, USA. 2016. David Walker, approaches me after eating at the Uptown soup kitchen. "Come over here and I will give you the money-shot."

  • Johannesburg, South Africa. 2013. The population of the crowded inner city of Johannesburg has quadrupled during the past twenty years.

  • New York, USA. 2016. A steam cloud rises from a block of flats in a densely populated district.

  • Ottosdal, South Africa. 2010. He wouldn't give me his name, but wanted his portrait taken. His fave is lined with scars resulting from a domestic altercation.

  • Harrisburg, USA. 2016. Stephanie Cuthbertson, gets her meals at a local food kitchen. She wouldn't say who had beaten her.

  • Delareyville, South Africa. 2013. New shack dwellings receive electricity from the state.

  • Bombay Beach, Saltan Sea, California, USA. 2019. There seemed to be no logical reason why this metal cube was left within this empty landscape.

  • Alexandra, South Africa. 2013. Bachazile Ximba, now 64 years old, still lives in a shack near
    the site of a political killing that I had photographed in 1992. She remembers seeing the body, but says that since that time crime has become the major problem in the area. Last year a body was dumped outside her shack. She says that the criminals removed the victim’s teeth and eyes, in order to avoid identification.

  • Harrisburg, USA. 2016. Rhonda Garrett waits for breakfast at her local diner.