Per Englund spent a couple of summers photographing Cape Town, South Africa and his photobook Life Geos On provides an investigation of the urban cultural landscape paired with a gritty introspection of the social scene. The book’s subtitle Snapshots from Cape Town, infers with the descriptive “Snapshots” text, an armature term that would indicate that this body of work is a non-professional collection of random photographs. It is anything but that.
From the book’s brief introduction;
(This)…is a diary from Cape Town, where Swedish photographer Per Englund spent several South African summers. It is a collection of his observations and memories and depicts the post-apartheid city from street level. Photographs of streets, urban landscapes, bars & hotel rooms, he takes us on a personal journey through Cape Town…
The format of the body of work is in a black and white documentary style. The photographs are all horizontal, while enhancing the “snapshot” esthetic, yet sophisticated with details lurking in the edges. The tilting vertical lines indicates his preference a wide-angle view-point, normally at close range, which imparts a greater sense of space within the framework of the image. Interestingly this photobook is a vertical format with his photographs printed one per page and one page per spread. The horizontal photographs are usually not full bleed and thus appear small on the page, with large amounts of white margin, providing a subtle feeling of looking at someone’s vacation scrap-book.
Opening the front cover of the photobook, you immediately confront an exposed book spine. The implications are that what follows will be raw, revealing, implying there will be no secrets, and an investigative look behind the scenes (seams).
Englund’s photobook is almost equally divided into to two sections, transitioned by a two page spread with a full bleed, night-scape panorama of the city. In the first section depicting the day, an almost normal functioning city, but after nightfall in the second section, then the partying begins. The external contextual backdrop of Cape Town is that of a post-apartheid society in which all are supposedly equals.
His “snapshots” captures a subtle and wry humor, with caustic darkly lit undertones. It could be argued that this body of work is similar in nature to Martin Parr’s, who Terry Barrett describes as someone who “unites a political awareness with humor focused on the mundane”. Englund observes the oddly paired couple at the beach utilizing the open air shower, the pensive man leaning over a railing with a large business building looming behind him, and an unfinished highway overpass that seems to lead to nowhere in particular. The unfinished highway bridge points to a stark white high-rise building and avoids a series of smaller dark buildings. I read into this a social commentary that this incomplete highway, a fast lane that rises above the pre-apartheid landscape, provides a place of separation, sanctuary, and thus a physical segregation, has been painfully interrupted, an arrested development as a result of the menacing dark “others” looming now on the sidelines.
The titled photograph of Life Geos On is a spray-painted text on a concrete column supporting an over-pass. Under the bridge on the left in the background is a person who seems to assembling all of their worldly belongings in a shopping cart. On the opposite side of the same column is a modern car, tidy, with the windows securely up, moving away from the person at the shopping cart. I sense a poignant observation commenting on the post-apartheid environment, as the person who seems to only have his shopping cart is not white, but although not knowing who is driving the nice car, we can guess probably is white. A political change may have occurred, but it seems that there is still a great racial divide between the haves and the have-nots. Nevertheless, Life Goes (Geos) On, here an ode for survival, to get through one day at a time.
At the half-way transition point of the book, we shift to a more personal and intimate viewpoint, that after night-fall, the “Party” Life Goes (Geos) On. The photographs delve more autobiographical into Englund personal memories, with the viewpoint becoming closer, the framing tighter and more intimate.
Englund appears not to use a documentary style to capture the night-life, as so much to snatch snapshots and vignettes of his partying experiences, now black and white memories. To capture, much like a tourist trophy, who he was with, what they were doing, where they hung out, the results of too much drinking, and eventually some are falling down drunk, and passing out where they lay.
It does appear that in when you party in Cape Town, it is very similar to anyplace else. The party photographs of drinking, singing, driving, clubbing, mingling, drunk and falling down, passing out, refuge in a bathtub, guys & gals in horny costumes, couples and individuals falling out of cars and who knows what after a night of partying & drinking, with the grass littered with smashed and flattened beer cans, clothes falling off, exposed breasts & nipple shots. Yes, the (Party) Life Goes On. These are private glimpses and now recorded memories of what occurs after nightfall in Cape Town, but it really could be anywhere. There is also a rawness in the photographs that reflects the rawness of the experience.
This is a stiff cover book, with the interior spine exposed, with English and Swedish translations of the brief introduction and afterword. The photographs are without captions and the pages are not numbered, very minimalist in design. It should also be noted that Englund’s photobook was one of twenty-five books recognized for the 2009 Swedish Art Book Award.
by Douglas Stockdale