“Walking the City is an ongoing photographic enquiry, which explores the sense of liminality and impermanence of the situations I stumble across on the pavements of Cape Town. My photographs for this project (thus far) have all been taken using my cell phone camera device, as this technology lends itself to the unobtrusive observational nature of my photographic interest,” – Lauren TheunissenBack
Lauren Theunissen has recently completed the Orms Cape Town School of Photography Artist in Residence programme, in which she was given the opportunity and resources to further develop her body of work, Walking the City.
Walking the City | Open Archive presents a selection of work which positions itself as a glimpse into Theunissen’s photo-archive.
“Walking the City (2015 – ) reveals the Cape Town that I experience as opposed to the well packaged, high gloss brochures of our wonderful city.” – Lauren Theunissen
Through this ongoing photographic enquiry, Walking the City (2015 – ), explores the liminality and impermanence of situations Theunissen stumbles across on the pavements of Cape Town. Her photographs have all been taken using her cell phone camera device, as this technology lends itself to the unobtrusive observational nature of her photographic interest.
Theunissen makes use of this ever-growing archive through the creation of photo books. Her photographs are sequenced to form a stream-of-conscious narrative and eventually dispersed in a collection of photo books.
“I promote a sense of discovery through the interaction of paging through books. Page by page, step by step, Walking the City (2015 – ) describes my experience of walking through and observing the particular streets of Cape Town.”- Lauren Theunissen
Born in Cape Town, Theunissen graduated from Michaelis School of Fine art, 2015, Majoring in Photography. She has recently been awarded the Tierney Fellowship, which will further facilitate her new body of work for Walking the City 2016/2017.
Exhibition Opening: Thursday, 21 July,2016, 6pm-8pm
To begin ‘Walking the City’, again, started off as a bit of a wobbly process. The main challenge with adding onto an existing project is not to redo | copy | rehash photographs but to reimagine | reinvent | reinterpret and to ultimately do something a little different. Luckily for me my subject matter is Cape Town, a place in a constant state of flux.
I began this project last year with the need to capture something of the essence of Cape Town and what it is to be in and experience the city space. This driving force has not changed. I think it is important for me as a member of the public to show the Cape Town that I experience as opposed to the well packaged | high gloss brochures of our wonderful city [facade vs. functionality]. Cape Town is crawling with untold stories and it is my interest to begin the task of picking them up and sharing the narrative that exists on the cement and asphalt of the space.
I used much of the first day of the residency settling in to the beautiful, clean, white cube space that Orms Cape Town School of Photography has set aside for me. It’s good to take a bit of time to acclimatize and to get to know the people in the office across the passageway and the pink rimmed glasses at the front desk. I felt like I was fumbling a bit when I went out for my first shoot that evening. I was walking and was afraid to start taking pictures and then I hit a phase of taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures( not productive either). I think it is the most important thing to realise that with street photography, as I have experienced it thus far, is to let go. You can’t fully anticipate what you will find or what situation will unfold before your eyes. The trick is to be fully immersed in the space and to pay attention – Look.
This is not an easy thing to do and you have to put yourself into this frame of mind every time you go out to shoot. For a few days prior to the residency I started looking at the work of other street photographers and when shooting, I found myself trying to take ‘their’ photographs. I realised this as soon as I started doing it and at the point I let go and began looking for myself. Cape Town is a completely different creature to anywhere else in the world and you have to treat whichever context you are in with fresh eyes and a keen finger on the shutter release. As soon as you get in the flow and start walking on a visual journey you will start capturing something else.
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This past week in Cape Town has been bit of a nightmare because of the flash-mob rain sessions. Shoots have been cut short and I have found myself sticking to the walls and sheltered spaces in the city. On a positive note the overcast weather makes for beautiful soft lighting conditions. The sun also rises much later so I am finding myself becoming aware of the things that are illuminated by neon and street lights and the warm glow of the rising sun. The rain has also made light play in very interesting ways and I am enjoying trying to work with reflections and hurriedly moving subjects.
At different times of the day not only does the light change but so does the movements around the city spaces. I think It has been the most important lesson for me this week to be sensitive to the activities that occur and then reoccur throughout the city. I now know when dirt day is and where all the wheely bins meet. I know where the ice buckets for soft drinks get filled. I now know that I can get five tiny naartjies for one rand at the man with the colourful plates on Grand Parade. It is important to get to the know the space you are working in. You need to get to know a space quite intimately to be able to pick up when something has shifted or changed. New posters are plastered every week: QUICK ABORTION, LOST LOVER, PENIS ENLARGEMENT, VAGINA TIGHTENING CALL XXX XXX XXXX. Layers and layers of the most bizarre posters.
The city has a certain kind fluidity about it. When you begin spending time in a space you start to understand what happens when and where. When photographing I try and tap into that fluidity and I attempt to anticipate situations. I find myself looking ahead and seeing a space and composition I would like to try out. Lo and behold something will happen right in front of me as I have found my composition . I never really anticipate the exact thing that will come into frame but when it does I am ready for it.
The studio walls and long wheely tables are becoming overcrowded by prints. Carefully composed pictures of poop are being juxtaposed with stray braids,ice-cream wrappers and people walking out from the train station. This is the week when some serious organising and critical reflection has to take place.
Having printed a selection of my favourite moments each week I can begin to make links between photographs and form narratives. The links are superficial in the beginning of this sorting process. I find myself making links using the tonal and compositional likenesses between images. It is important in my practice and process to remain open about where the project goes and what narrative emerges through sequencing. I fiddle around with photos and lay them all out on a table or two. When laying the images out at random, an image may sit next to another that I never thought could go together. Unexpected conversations start to occur. Nothing is set in stone at this point so it is always good to play around and see what is teased out through this play.
At this point in the project I can see patterns have emerged and I can pick out collections that I have subconsciously been piecing together. It is constructive to see the trends of your own work so that you can either continue or shift your way of working. I now know what kind of imagery I need to be consciously looking out for and what kinds of moments I can ignore as I have already covered the kind of shot well enough to avoid wasting time on repeating myself. In some cases I will need to attempt to reshoot something for whatever reason. This reflection time is crucial for the process orientated nature of Walking the City.
I was approached by a few different individuals about what I was doing hovering over a pile of bananas, for example. It is so strange when your invisibility cloak is lifted and and a simple question turns into a sharing of life stories, then a studio visit and an exchanging of contacts to meet again. Until this project is was very rare that this sort of thing would happen to me. I am not sure how many people walk around and come across a random person who then becomes a friend? Then is something quite amazing about connecting with someone with no expectations other than some good conversation. It feels quite a rare thing to have happen so frequently over the last few weeks.It is also very interesting to engage with the people that frequent a space and to hear of their experiences. Even if it is not direct;y related to the street i which you meet but rather about their personal story. I has become important for me to know who navigates the space so that I can better identify with the remnants that the frequenters leave behind.
This post is dedicated to those who made this Residency possible.
The space that Orms Cape Town School of Photography has opened up for me has given me creative freedom. This is worth the world to any emerging artist / photographer and I am beyond grateful for this.This Residency has enabled me to fully immerse myself in Walking the City again. This is extremely useful considering the recent announcement of my Tierney Fellowship Award. I hadn’t really photographed anything for myself in a few months and being accepted into the Residency gave me a confidence in my ability and reignited my belief in my practice and this project. Thank you.
Starting this process again was intimidating – it still is. I questioned myself and my work. I was extremely nervous of disappointing those who had awarded this to me, but worse, I was terrified of disappointing myself. I pushed myself a lot during the course of the month and kept challenging my routine way of photographing to develop something better.
I worked outside of my comfort zone a lot of the time and trusted my gut when put into some strange situations. I have met so many beautiful minds over this last month because I took the time to stop and listen. I took the time to look and to see and to begin to understand the way our city moves. I think the success of this project, thus far, has been grounded on my willingness to learn about Cape Town city space. This is how I begin to know where to stand and when. Through photography I am creating an alternative narrative for understanding and negotiating space in Cape Town. I am extremely grateful for the space I have been given over this last month to continue with this project.
The beautiful, clean white-wall space is an absolute delight – a neutral thinking space to explode in. I don’t think I explain how important uninterrupted thinking space can be when needing to work through the complexities of theorizing and sequencing a body of work into something meaningful. Dominique Edwards has been an amazing mentor to me over this last month. It is important to have someone who is able to listen, feedback and facilitate a creative process. I value all the time and energy that Dominique has given and I will carry her wise words and remember her calming temperament wherever I go. Also she made me Buchu tea which I have never had before and now can’t stop having.
Thank you Mike Ormrod and Orms Cape Town school of Photography you have given me space, time, materials and a friendly professional working environment. I could not ask for more. I will remember my time here forever! This is the beginning of great things to come.
Save the date: Walking the City: Open Archive, Thursday, 21 July 2016.