I’ve lived in Makhanda/Grahamstown for 20 years now so I’m almost a local, though you really need a couple of tombstones in one or more of the churches to properly qualify. In this edition of Homescreen I’m going to share some of my favourites of the photographs I’ve made of the city. It’s been a focus of my photography for the 10 years I’ve been shooting so there are many to choose from. All of the photos I’ll share with you today as well as the ones in the ‘Makhanda’ album on my website are available as prints in sizes and formats to suit any budget. Get in touch! I’m friendly, I promise. Let’s get you sorted for Christmas presents for people with a connection to the city of Makhanda / Grahamstown or as I like to think of it, Makhandatown, mostly because it sounds like ‘my kind of town’.
This shot of Fitzroy Street with the jacaranda and flame trees in bloom is one of my favourites of the photos I’ve made of Makhanda. It’s also one of the first photos I ever made. One of the ‘rules’ that I’ve come to realise govern the universe is that the first shot is usually the best. I also love the shot of the corner of African Street with the Village Green sign, another of my early ones. It reminds me of the days when the Village Green was the heart of the National Arts Festival.
The people of Makhanda are all familiar with the decay of the city and sometimes it’s hard to maintain love for the place as we negotiate potholes, herds of farm animals and taps that run dry while rivers of water run through the streets and create temporary lakeside property.
As an animal lover I’m happy to have donkeys around and even the occasional cow. The cows are more a feature than occasional, thought, but they create opportunities for some cool photos that would probably never happen anywhere else.
Even with the challenges we face there is still an abundance of beauty in the city. I’ve often said that one of the reasons that I love photography is that it lets us see the world anew, and it can show the beauty that remains in Makhanda and hopefully help people hold on to their sense of connection to the city. The charm is still there, you just have to look beyond the corroded surface, and photography can help with that.
I use long exposures to create that feeling of wonder, particularly in my night photography where car headlights become streaks of light and street lamps become stars. At night buildings and roads take on a character different to that with which we’re familiar and we can see them afresh and perhaps reclaim some of the affection that has faded with the waning of the city’s grace.
The murals and graffiti that brighten walls and substations are a prominent feature of the city’s urban character. This art is a far cry from the idiotic, selfish tagging of people’s houses and businesses by some chop with a can of spray paint.
The city has some fantastic natural features that make it a nice place to live. As a photographer I’m happy that I can easily get out into the bush and up a mountain, and I love shooting at Gray Dam which may not be a natural feature but is no less beautiful for that.
One of Makhanda’s aliases is the City of Saints. This is because it’s got a whole lot of churches, more than forty according to Google. I’ve made photos of a few in the city and the surrounding areas, starting with the obvious one, the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, and heading out to the beautiful little church at Rokeby Park on the Port Alfred road.
The problems with living in Makhandatown are many, but so are the pleasures. I hope my photos help to connect people to the city. Taking them certainly makes me feel better.
Tom Jeffery is a writer and photographer. Homescreen is his blog, where his writing and photography come together. You can find more of his work, including his novels, on his website, www.tomjeffery.co.za.