In the last few years, I’ve written a range of feature articles covering the development of the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Those pieces demanded a particular focus to meet the discerning requirements of readers in specialist disciplines such as construction, civil engineering, and facilities and environmental management. The photographs I took were highly project-specific.
I’d even tramped the quays of the Waterfront to board the dedicated ferry to Robben Island, South Africa’s best-known World Heritage site, to gather material for articles on upgrades to that most venerable location. The environmental-friendly enhancements included the construction of state-of-the-art sewage works and the positioning of scores of A-frame shelters for breeding penguins.
Last week a different approach surfaced in my mind. I felt the desire to change hats, to visit the V&A Waterfront precinct as a casual visitor among the people once again thronging the area now that restrictions have been eased. What images could I capture with the mindset of a casual visitor? What pictorial stories might reveal themselves?
In truth, opportunities for holiday photographs abound at this popular Cape Town landmark. But I wanted to identify and exploit quirky visuals wherever they presented themselves.
Wheeling around the V&A Waterfront on my mountain bike meant I could carry my palm-sized Canon digital ‘point and shoot’ in the back pocket of my cycling shirt for quick access.
A metallic thunderclap gave notice that an American wave of Harley Davidson motorbikes was on display in front of the historic harbour master’s building. Jason Dadd, organiser of bespoke corporate tours, managed to harness his American flag-liveried Harley for a few seconds while I snapped away.
Nosiphiwo Mboyane, a colourfully-dressed visitor from Uitenhage, was taking a ‘selfie’ at the quay populated by evening cruise yachts and cruisers. Using a diminutive to identify herself, Nosi was happy to allow another lens to be added to her self-portrait photoshoot.
A phalanx of elderly steel cannons on display outside the Chavonnes Battery Museum caught my eye. Afternoon shadow added menace to a cannon seemingly aimed at the original, historic harbour master’s clock tower. The cast-iron cannons on display guarded Cape Town’s harbour entrance at the end of the 19th century.
The Victorian Gothic-style clock tower, repainted in the startling red colour of the 1800s, was the original office of Cape Town’s harbour master. Built-in 1882, the iconic tower is a symbol of the Waterfront’s commitment to urban renewal.
The strident notes of a trumpet rippling across the Alfred Basin lured me back over the sweep of the futuristic swing bridge to Nobel Square. Madiba’s statue looked on in mute appreciation of the efforts of the marimba band entertaining visitors. Nelson Mandela’s statue is one of four positioned in a row overlooking the square. He and F.W. de Klerk are Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The other two statues depict the revered Desmond Tutu and international South Africa stateman Albert Luthuli.
For a brief moment, I managed to capture an image of the exuberant trumpeter as he keyed his way through a complex medley. The sheer power of the music held us spellbound for minutes as it weaved its magic message into our psyche.
A few minutes later I cycled past the Zeitz Mocca art gallery on my way to the Lindt chocolate shop. A day or two earlier I’d captured workers in bright yellow overalls wrestling with a ladder outside the entrance to the gallery.
I have a particular affinity for what must be one of the most unusual gallery buildings in the world. A few years before I’d written a feature article about the technical challenges that presented themselves when undertaking the repurposing of the historic grain silos built-in 1921. Imagine the lateral thinking by the engineers to secure the century-old silos constructed using building methods and materials of that time. Apart from the art gallery, the structure also houses a luxury hotel featuring a roof-top swimming pool.
Excavations in the Silo precinct unearthed the wreckage of a ship dated between 1700 and 1800, give or take a few decades. I wonder how many visitors are aware that only a few metres away from the shipwreck the Silo precinct’s underground parking is well below the water level of the Cape Town harbour.
The Lindt shop adjoining the grain silos had closed by the time I arrived. My sweet tooth groaned but as I turned away I spotted a structure on the fishing boat side of the Victoria Basin taken directly from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The skeletal framework appeared to be standing guard over fishing boats tied up at the Sea Harvest wharf. Phone calls to help me identify the true nature of the structure led nowhere.
The pictures I captured in the 2.5km ride around the waterfront are a far cry from the article-specific images that support the pieces I write for magazines and web sites. The strength of these casual photographs lies in their ability to transport viewers into the depths of visual story-telling far removed from but adding considerably to, the imagery created through the power of the pen. I’d be a satisfied scribe if these images hold viewers’ attention for more than a few seconds.
Article kindly checked by SAFREA’s Peter Ucko.