Sabelo Mlangeni: Big City 2010
Review by Monique Pelser
80 x 80 cm Silver gelatin print
Sabelo Mlangeni photographs Johannesburg, known locally as E-Goli (the city of Gold). Johannesburg is a city, which was founded on the gold mines, and over the past century people have consistently flocked to the city in search of a better life away from rural South Africa.
The photograph was taken from a higher perspective than the people streaming into the city; the triangle created by the pedestrians leads the eye towards the skyline, which is also framed by the clouds. During apartheid, in South Africa, as a means of enforcing segregation the government set up homelands. Homelands were areas far outside of major cities where the black population had to live. A curfew and pass laws enforced this separation; people had to carry a passbook and needed the permission of their employer to be in the city outside of these times. The homelands were about a three-hour train and/or bus trip away from the city. People who worked in the city would spend up to six hours traveling a day to and from work. This has changed however people still travel for hours to get work as communities were established in these areas.
With this in mind, the image points to the power of the city, how people rely on the city for a livelihood. The photograph feels like a new day, like a stream moving in towards the city. The details of the backs of people holding onto each other, stretching and arms over shoulders give the feeling of a community and togetherness. There is a strong sense of gravitation in this photograph; the commuters seem pulled by a magnetic force generated by the city.