Kraaifontein (South Africa) can be a kak (shit) place. Just do a search. Especially on Youtube where the popular list of street fights and shootings is balanced by the angry wail of drifting sedans. Even a virtual drive-by in Streetview is time-travel to decades before the virtual 2010 of Google. Even the cars are from the 80’s. This is so far past the Boerewors (sausage) Curtain that it is beyond the White Wall.
But some brave ones do venture out there on chilly weeknights and on monthly pilgrimages to the dirt oval in the northern reaches of Cape Town’s urban sprawl. It is places like this that call to Gerhardt Coetzee, who for the past five years has been secretly shooting in neglected corners of the over-photographed Mother City.
Coetzee looks for empty places. His Instagram is full of emptiness. If there are people in the frame, their backs are turned, or they are brutally cropped, or are playing precariously close to a compositional abyss that yawns across the image. Here in Kraaifontein he matches moments of still life – a Redbull, Red Heart and Johnny Red on a bonnet – with an unguarded moment on the faces of the inhabitants of this temporal zone. Portraits in limbo.
This portfolio of sunburned photographs are a lesson in form and composition. If you can get past the initial story struggling to hide from the sharp focus, your eyes might return to the image to find hidden details that provide the irony and pathos that Coetzee feeds off. He is the artist that allows the viewer to see the invisible – the stuff that hides from lazy everyday eyes.
Here is a moment of pause in a very noisy pursuit. Customised rides drift incessantly around the short, round track day and night of the event weekend. Armoured cars battle it out physically around the course, some straying into each other, some into the barriers and dust on the edge of the road. The families who come to inhabit this world of petrol, oil and braaivleis (barbecue meat) know this is their place. Safe from the scrutiny of the politically correct, where the only danger is the self-made one of speed and spirits.
This is a ‘Goldblatt in Boksburg’ moment - a quiet revelation of the impact of the political macrocosm on the lives of the ordinary citizen. A witness of a truth in the pursuit of escape. Whereas Goldblatt’s searing black and white documents are a testament to how the ordinary survived an extraordinary world, these images of Tygerberg Raceway are how ordinary people create their own temporary world so as to survive the complicated one which can no longer be understood.
Words: Richard Kilpert