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Sabelo Mlangeni: Invisible Woman II 2006

Monique Pelser
11 January 2013

A review by Monique Pelser

Sabelo Mlangeni (born 1980 in Driefontein, South Africa)
Invisible Woman II 2006
48 x 70 cm
Silver gelatin print

Sabelo Mlangeni prowled the streets of Johannesburg at night photographing the women who came out to sweep the streets.  He was interested in the idea that these women work through the night and into the early hours when most people are asleep. In the morning when pedestrians take to the streets again they are unaware that these women have worked all night. Most pedestrians are oblivious to the fact that the streets have been swept at all.  He thought of these women as invisible citizens.

The photograph shows the typical urban shop front with the metal roller door and hard concrete pavement or sidewalk.  The woman works, sweeping away trash and debris, oblivious to the photographer.  This is a great photograph because it shows both strength and grace.  The woman, with her headscarf tied to the side and her long skirt, is feminine.  The motion blur created by photographing with a long exposure in low light conditions emphasizes her femininity and creates flair as well as rhythm.  The almost double exposure of the broom creates a repetitive sweeping motion.  This sense of movement is juxtaposed with the hard environment. 

This photograph is one out of a series entitled Invisible Women.  The woman depicted here is absorbed in her work and could be in a meditative state brought on by the repetitive nature of the work.  The image looks like music, a work song, sung to keep the morale up and to take the mind off of the repetitive nature of the work.

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