Yeoville in the 80s
This is a collection of photographs taken between 1984 and 1988 in Yeoville, the inner city Johannesburg neighbourhood where I lived.
This work began as a visual ‘safety valve’: a way of helping me deal with the violent and disturbing political events I was documenting at the time, and the deep levels of stress they induced. I needed to earth myself by making images within a landscape that included me, where I could be playful as a photographer and connect to a world that was more familiar.
When the government declared a State of Emergency in 1986, under which any photography of political protest or violence was outlawed, my work in Yeoville took on an added urgency. I redoubled my efforts to explore the everyday encounters of black and white people that took place in Yeoville’s public spaces. I was searching for the small, often intimate moments that could reflect the divisions of apartheid.
One of the central photographs in this collection shows Watu Kobese, then a young teenage chess prodigy, taking part in a tournament between the Soweto and Yeoville chess clubs. For this event to happen, an intricate bureaucratic process was required to legally allow black players into the Recreation Centre. Watu Kobese went on to become Head of the South African Chess Federation and is now a South African chess International Master.