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Robin Bernstein

remnants of Cape Towns first

problem building.


Robin Bernstein

remnants of Cape Towns first

problem building.

(Left) Susan Meiselas. ‘Collage of a police report and photograph’, from the serise ‘Archives of Abuse’. San Francisco, USA, 1992 (Above) Susan Meiselas. ‘Untitled’. Nicaragua, 1978.

Preface: Change persists. Nothing is constant.

168 Bachelor flats, overcrowded in many cases to 6 times their capacity, individually owned by a body corporate of over 100 people, less than 10 percent of who reside in, or have any vested interest other than financial ones, in the building. Situated at the heart of Cape Towns CBD on Long Street. A multistory drug and prostitution den, a haven for illegal immigrants, rife with gang violence, and overcrowding. The quintessential high-rise slum. Cape Towns first “problem building”. This photo-narrative investigative catalog deals with the idea of remnants. Story telling is by nature an after the fact affair, the remnants of any past are key to discovering the narratives which weave through it. Susan Meiselas in her social documentary work in Chile from within and El Salvador: the work of thirty photographers, somewhat reinvents the documentary genera of photography in a highly effective manner, instead of a more conventional process of integration, trust building, and only then photographing, she edits and presents the work of other photographers who are directly involved in the plight she wishes to document. The removal of herself as an outsider-image maker is pivotal in attaining a more genuine level of documentation. In Senator Park I tried to capture the spaces, objects, written materials and in a few cases people left behind in the wake of the Western Cape Administrations process of introducing the ‘problem buildings act’ and making an example out of Senator Park. The aim was to intervene with the visual materials as little as possible to attain a similar authenticity to that which Susan Meiselas strove for.

Jim Goldberg is a magnum photographer as of 2006, whose work deals with the long term documentation of, and collaboration with, those neglected by, ignored or otherwise outside the mainstream public. His innovative combining of text and images was also an inspiration for me when beginning to tie Senator Park and found objects together. Jim Goldberg was a pioneer when it came to multimedia presentation of a narrative through found objects, photographs, texts, sculpture, video and audio. In Raised by Wolves, Goldberg documents the fragmented lives of runaway teenagers on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles through disparate materials, maps, contacts and scrawled notes. The authenticity of such actual objects is paramount in expressing the fragmented nature of the narrative he is trying to present. His juxtaposition of text and image, through complimentary and yet ambiguous frames is highly effective. On the day of his father’s death he made an image titled Dads last shave, in which he photographed his fathers white stubble from his final shave. Goldberg shows how any narrative is based on remnants. Senator Park was vacated in a hurry as new government by-laws implemented the forced eviction of all tenants who were not owners. The building was cleared by police force followed by the permanent sealing of all flats by welding 12 steel bars to the doorframes. No entry or exit was physically allowed. The objects left behind remained where they were. For over a year the flats remained sealed with all of their contents, rotting food, refuse, and in one case the rotting body of an elderly unidentified woman in a chest freezer.

(Oposite) Jim Goldberg. ‘A 14 year old girl trafficked from Moldavia. Atherns, Greece, 2004

My work with the building began shortly after the removal of the steel bars, and has continued into the beginning phases of renovations. This is by no means a complete project; it shall continue to deal with Senator Park or possibly other buildings that face a similar fate in years to come. The feeling among some residents is that the building will rapidly decline back to its previous dire circumstance, according to Odi (pictured later), who has been the caretaker of the building for the past 14 years, 2 major drug lords who he personally knows have already bought back into the building during a spate of auctions where flats where sold for next to nothing, as an attempt by the body corporate to redeem unpaid levy’s. Through chronological newspaper articles, photographs, found objects, graffiti, notes and signs this catalog forms the beginning of many narratives. This catalog presents the first stage of what will be a continuing investigation into the idea of problem buildings in urban areas as part of a visual, anthropological study of how architecture and culture react and build upon each other in the constantly evolving urban environment.

(Oposite left) Jim Goldstien. ‘Dads last shave’. Florida / San Francisco, USA, 1993/1994 (Oposite right) Jim Goldstien. ‘Untitled (Larry and David Benko)’. San Francisco, USA, 1979.

Govenment Article detailing the problem buildings act. From

Enterance of Senator Park.

Bamford. H. (2009) Senator Park flats owners offerd R375 000 for property, Saturday Argus, 12 December. (Opposite) Veiws from the 6th and 7th floor of Senator Park, left to right, South, North, East and West.

(Found object) Notebook no. 1.

(Opposite) Abandoned kitchen unit.

Staff Writer (2010) Notorious Senator Park may be empty by March, Cape Times, 20 January. (Opposite) Interior Spaces detailing remnant objects; broken television.

Vandalised items. (Opposite) Interior Spaces detailing remnant objects; High heel shoe.

Bamford, H, (2010) Senator Park slum goes from bad to worse, Saturday Argus, 15 March. (Opposite) Abandoned items in living area.

(Found Object) Combined summons detailing R81 744.86 in outstanding levies, addressed to the owners flat 502.

Found object, Notebook no. 2. (Opposite) Room interior with calander.

Dolley, C, (2010) Owners ponder Senator Park plan, Cape Times, 13 August (Opposite) Empty mail boxes in lobby.

Dolley, C, (2010) By-law to clamp down on slumlords, problem buildings, Cape Times, 13 August (Opposite) Room interior with calendar #2.

Solomons, K, (2011) Tenants go as court order closes Senator Park, 2 July, Saturday Argus.v

Found object, scetch on cardboard.

Found object, ‘Comfort for the Depressed’ pamphlet. (Opposite) Found object’s; Viceroy Brandy bottle with note, Mandys number and Cipla-Actin anti-depressants.

Odi’s door. (Opposite) Cabinets housing water and electrical workings of the building became a common place for drug lords to stash their stock, indemnifying them from police raids. Subsequently they became a forum for malicios grafitti, as well as targets for vandalisim.

Lewis, E, (2011) Senator Park Ccleared of tenannts, Cape Argus, 5 July. (Opposite) Hallway. (Above) Abandoned photograph found in Senator Park, showing ex-tenants in hallway, dated 29-08-2010 .

Found object, Eviction notice from door of flat 613.

Dolley, C, (2011) Senator Park family stays out of security gaurds sights, Cape Times, 6 July. (Opposite) Stairs.

Found Photograph and xenophobic graffiti. (Opposite) Congolese passport application notice.

Schroeder, F, (2011) Senator Park poised for new look, new name, Cape Argus, 22 July. (Opposite) Cubord’s.

Found object notebook no. 3.

Kadalie, R, (2011) Senator Park flat owners have unanswerd questions, Cape Times, 8 september. (Opposite) Odi (Mr. Nieuwenhuis) in his 7th floor bachelour flat One of the few owners who resides in Senator Park. Caretaker of Senator Park for the past 14 years. Sacked during the eviction process.

Found object, note on back of relligious self-help page.

Staff Writer, (2011) Remaining Senator Park tenant to be evicted, Cape Times, 14 september. (Opposite) Found object. Curriculum Vitae of Dale D. Ahaotu.

Found object’s; courier reciept, flyer for ‘love revival fellowship minesteries’. (Opposite) Interior living spaces. Found object Viceroy Brandy bottle with note.

Solomons, K, (2011) R9m renovation on cards for Senator park, Saturday Argus, 9 June. (Opposite) Room in the process of renovation.

Senator park cape towns first problem building  

A photographic investigation of the remnants of Senator Park, Cape Towns first problem building.

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